"Carrozza Law Office, P.C. has provided my family and I with peace of mind. After we had put it off for a long time, he worked with us to prepare our estate plan and made the entire process seem nearly effortless. Jason addressed our particular concerns with knowledge, integrity, and experience, and had brought to our attention many aspects of our situation that we had not even considered. Working with Jason has proven to be a very enlightening and rewarding experience and I never hesitate to recommend him."
~ M.W., Mendon, MA
"I would absolutely recommend Mr. Carrozza. He was friendly, responsive and provided a speedy turnaround time. He was also excellent with follow-up questions even after the work was complete. I was especially impressed with his attention to detail and the excellent preparation and final presentation of our documents. Highly recommended."
~ J.P., Ashland, MA
Carrozza Law Office, P.C. positively empowers its clients with control, security, and peace of mind by instituting sound planning to protect families and preserve wealth from all of the unintended consequences of life.
CONTROL YOUR FUTURE AND PROTECT YOUR FAMILY
"The only things certain in this world are death and taxes."
WHAT IS ESTATE PLANNING?
Proper estate planning can help you address both. However, estate planning is more than just planning for death, it is also about planning for disability or incapacity.
No one likes to contemplate death or the possibility of years of illness or disability. The thoughtful creation of an estate plan, when you can effectively express your desires regarding the distribution of your assets, care of your minor children, and health care wishes, is the best way to control your future and protect your family.
Whether your objective is to avoid probate, eliminate or mitigate estate tax exposure, ensure that your property goes to the right people or charities, or maintain family harmony, Carrozza Law Office, P.C. can partner with you to help meet your goals.
To combat procrastination, our unique approach to estate planning is designed to be efficient and cost effective, offering both convenience and peace of mind when creating the blueprint for your future. We understand the emotional issues associated with long term planning and covet the personal information shared with our office. At Carrozza Law Office, P.C., we appreciate the trust and confidence placed with us and strive for a lifetime client relationship. Click here to contact our office to schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss your unique estate planning situation.
For a comprehensive overview of the what, why, and who of estate planning, please click below:
"Where there is a will, there is a say."
PROPERTY HELD IN TRUST AVOIDS PROBATE
As the name implies, estate planning is creating a plan to deal with unintended life changing events. It is legally memorializing one's wishes to be later enforced in the event of death or incapacity. Unlike other areas of law, estate planning is a preventative practice of law. Simply put, you set up your estate plan when you are alive and have mental capacity and do not need it, because when you do need it, due to death or mental incapacity, the opportunity for planning is lost.
Assessing your unique circumstances, family dynamics, and individual goals ensures that a customized estate plan is drawn up and implemented to effectively carry out your wishes. To that end, specific documents are prepared and signed to protect your financial and health care well being, ensure the proper distribution of your property, and provide for the care and custody of your minor children. The foundation of an estate plan consists of a Last Will and Testament, Health Care Proxy (including an Advance Directive and HIPAA Authorization Release), and Durable Power of Attorney. In the situation where you have minor children (under the age of 18), a Family Trust and Emergency Guardianship Proxy are also prepared. Click here to see The Simple Estate Plan overview.
When the total value of your estate is less than $1,000,000.00 (which represents the current Massachusetts estate tax exemption), your estate plan does not need to be overly complicated or expensive. That being said, even a simple estate plan should be comprehensive and designed to address foreseeable events such as death, disability, and incapacity.
Contrary to public misconception, a Last Will and Testament does not dispose of the need to probate an estate. To the contrary, the Last Will and Testament simply streamlines the probate process by nominating a personal representative and dispenses with some legal formalities imposed by the Court. However, property held in a trust at the time of one's death avoids the probate process and associated time, cost, and expense.
A trust is a legal relationship under which one individual (known as the "Donor") transfers property to another (known as the "Trustee"), who holds and manages said property for the benefit of another (known as the "Beneficiary") in accordance with the provisions of the trust agreement.
Trusts are a critical feature of a comprehensive estate plan. There are many types of Trusts which are each drafted with a specific intent. As such, a Trust is not a "one size fits all" document, but rather must be specifically tailored to meet your unique needs and objectives. For example, a specially designed Credit Shelter Trust can minimize or avoid estate tax exposure. Whereas, a simpler Family Trust can provide an asset management and distribution vehicle for the benefit of minor children, but without providing any tax advantage.
A Trust can be created during one's life (referred to as a "living trust") or after one has died (referred to as a "testamentary" trust). Moreover, a trust can be modifiable during one's life (referred to as a "revocable" trust) or permanent and unchangeable (referred to as an irrevocable trust). Click here to see The Revocable Living Trust overview.
WHY DO YOU NEED AN ESTATE PLAN?
"If you fail to plan your estate, the state will plan it for you."
The importance of setting up your estate plan cannot be overstated. Simply put, an estate plan allows you to maintain control and flexibility following your death or incapacity. Without an estate plan in place, you and your family will be subject to inflexible, costly, and drawn out legal entanglements which can include: administration, guardianship, and conservatorship.
With the appropriate legal documents in place to meet your unique estate planning objectives, you can ensure that your assets will pass to selected family, friends, or charities, that your children will be raised by the individual of your choice, and that your estate tax exposure will be reduced or eliminated. By addressing these issues while you are alive and competent, the likelihood of family harmony disruption and costly litigation can be reduced. Most importantly, an effective estate plan will relieve your loved ones from having to deal with many of the legal ramifications associated with your death or incompetence.
A comprehensive estate plan should adequately and effectively address and resolve the following questions:
- Who will make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so?
- Who will manage your finances and property on your behalf if you are unable to do so?
- Where will your property pass if you die? What type of property will be given to whom?
- Who will raise your minor children if you and your spouse die or become incapacitated?
- Who will manage and distribute the property left for your minor children?
- Have you taken steps to protect your primary residence from future law suits?
- Have you taken steps to defer, reduce, or eliminate any estate taxes which may be due upon your death?
Because the law and life situations are ever changing, for better or for worse, it is necessary to review and update your existing estate plan documents from time to time. Specifically, the following questions should be addressed at the time of your review:
- What has happened since the time you prepared your existing plan?
- Has there been any new additions to your family by marriage, birth, or adoption? Has there been any deaths? Has anyone recently become disabled?
- Have you sold or acquired any new assets? Has your net worth changed?
- Has your employment changed? Have you started a business?
- Have you purchased any new life insurance policies or set up any new retirement accounts?
- Has anyone recently become separated, divorced, or married?
- If probate avoidance is now a priority, have you considered adding a revocable trust to your existing plan?
- Has your state of residency changed?
Whether creating or updating an estate plan, there is not a "one size fits all" model applied to this intimate and often complicated area of law. An estate plan should be strictly tailored to address the specific needs and unique goals of the family and individual. Accordingly, an effective estate planning approach involves assessing your goals, the law, and practical considerations to determine a plan that fits. Working closely with your team of trusted advisers (e.g., accountant, financial adviser, insurance agent, etc.) ensures that your estate plan effectively meshes with your financial plan.
WHO NEEDS AN ESTATE PLAN?
"Estate planning is not just for the wealthy."
THE FAMILY WITH MINOR CHILDREN
The need to establish an estate plan has nothing to do with your gender, age, marital status, or economic standing. If you are a person over the age of 18 and have an interest in protecting your children and/or ensuring that your assets pass to the right people or charitable organizations, then you have a vested interest in setting up an estate plan.
Unfortunately, estate planning does not provide a "one size fits all" model. Rather, your unique circumstances requires unique planning strategies. Here are some frequently encountered families and individuals who establish an estate plan:
Who do you trust to take care of your children and manage the property that is left to them?
THE FAMILY WITH ADULT CHILDREN
If something happens to both you and your spouse, it is critical to have a Last Will and Testament in place to nominate a guardian who is empowered to take custody of your minor children. The failure to set up a Last Will and Testament opens the door for any person, motivated by any reason, to petition the Court to be appointed the guardian of your children. Because your minor children cannot legally receive property, a Family Trust is established to receive all of your property on their behalf. The trustee that you have named in your Family Trust is empowered to manage and periodically distribute your property to your children in accordance with the specific instructions you provided in your Family Trust agreement. Upon something happening to you and your spouse, your Family Trust is immediately funded with life insurance proceeds and later receives your remaining estate assets passing under probate.
Are your children now mature enough to help manage your estate?
Perhaps you had set up an older estate plan to protect your family when your children were very young. Turning the clock forward, those children are now responsible adults and capable of assuming responsibilities that you had previously reserved for your parents or siblings. An estate plan consists of documents that generally can be updated to reflect your current life situation. Perhaps as your children have grown so has your net worth which presents an additional planning opportunity to address estate taxes.
THE BLENDED FAMILY (CHILDREN FROM A PRIOR RELATIONSHIP)
How do you fairly provide for your present spouse along with your children from a prior relationship?
THE UNMARRIED COUPLE (WITH OR WITHOUT MINOR CHILDREN)
In this modern era where blended families are commonplace, the estate planner is constantly faced with the situation of proposing a plan that protects the present spouse while ensuring the children from a prior relationship are not unintentionally disinherited. Careful attention is paid to how your assets are owned (titled) in relation to your existing spouse. Often times, life insurance is the great equalizer and ensures that your estate value is increased to provide for all of your loved ones.
What kind of relationship do you have with your family?
THE INDIVIDUAL WITH MINOR CHILDREN
Hopefully it is a good relationship, because they are the ones who will inherit your property (not your partner) if you fail to set up a Last Will and Testament. Existing Massachusetts inheritance laws do not recognize the rights of a surviving partner. As such, if there is a desire to provide for a partner, a Last Will and Testament must be drawn with specific asset distribution instructions to provide for that partner. Careful attention must be also paid to real estate (and other assets) owned jointly to determine the disposition of such property in the event of the death of either partner.
How do you feel about your ex-spouse managing your property left to your children?
THE INDIVIDUAL WITH ADULT CHILDREN
In the situation where you are now single due to a divorce, it is not a stretch to assume that the divorce was partially or wholly triggered by financial issues. If the custodial parent (the one who has primary physical custody of the children) dies, the surviving parent/ex-spouse (assuming he or she is fit to parent) will be the implied guardian of the children and the conservator of the assets left to the children from the deceased custodial parent. By setting up a comprehensive estate plan, your Family Trust would be established to receive any of your assets left to your children. The trustee of your Family Trust can be any person of your choice. Ultimately, with your Family Trust in place, you can rest assured that your assets will never come into the possession of your ex-spouse.
Which child is better suited to manage your finances?
THE INDIVIDUAL WITHOUT CHILDREN
What about your health care related decisions? In the situation of a single parent with adult children, it is likely that your children will be the ones to care for you. The question is "which ones" would you chose. When preparing an estate plan, the decision lies with you to determine which child should manage your health care decisions pursuant to your Health Care Proxy, your finances pursuant to your Durable Power of Attorney, and ultimately your estate settlement pursuant to your Last Will and Testament. Perhaps one child can effectively handle all these areas, but perhaps each of your children has his/her unique strengths and talents. Without a Last Will and Testament, Health Care Proxy, and Durable Power of Attorney in place, each of your children are free to vie for costly appointment to control over issues that deal with managing your health care, finances, and estate. To maintain family harmony, those appointments need to made by you in advance; otherwise they will be made later by a Judge. Moreover, if you subsequently lose your mental capacity without having a valid Health Care Proxy and Durable Power of Attorney in place, your loved ones will be required to pursue the costly endeavor of seeking Guardianship and Conservatorship over your person and property.
Are you charitably inclined?
THE BUSINESS OWNER
Under existing Massachusetts inheritance laws, your property passes to those individuals related to you by blood unless a Last Will and Testament provides otherwise. To put it another way, without a Last Will and Testament in place, your property will ultimately pass to your blood relatives (provided you have such living relatives). In the situation where you are estranged or not particularly fond of your family, the existing Massachusetts inheritance laws would not be favorable for you. However, your Last Will and Testament could provide instructions to distribute your assets to your friends or favorite charities.
Do you have a plan to operate your business in your absence?
In light of the existing economic climate, people are not looking for existing jobs, they are creating them and forming businesses. As such, small business owners are on the rise. If you should temporarily become disabled or lose mental capacity, it is critical to have a durable power of attorney in place which will name someone to step into your shoes and manage your business operations in your absence. In the case of a closely held family business, determining the succession of that business to the right children is critical to preserve family harmony in the event of your death.