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What Is Probate?

Probate is the legal process of validating a will, supervising the administration of a will, and making distribution of estate assets to beneficiaries. Court supervision is required before property will pass to the heirs. Furthermore, no satisfactory title to real estate can be obtained by heirs until official administration has been obtained and steps taken to bar creditors.

I was reading over my will and noticed that the word "per stirpes" is used often. What does it mean?

The term "per stirpes" describes the way a gift made in your will is to be divided among your children or grandchildren. Most people want their gifts to their children to be divided equally among them. Using the word "per stirpes" accomplishes this and also tells the executor what to do with the money or property if a child named in the will has died. In such a case, the child's share is divided among the deceased child's children. If he or she did not have any children, then the deceased child's share gets divided equally among the other siblings named in the will.

Why Do I Need a Will?

If you die without leaving a will, it is called dying intestate. Intestacy creates many legal complications that can significantly delay your family being able to inherit the assets of your estate, as well as selling any real estate you may own. Dying intestate is also more expensive process, costing your loved ones substantially more in legal fees then if you had a valid will. In addition, if you have young children, you may want your wishes known as to who you would like to raise them in event of your death.

Is there a way that I can help my grandchildren financially without paying significant taxes?

Giving gifts to loved ones while you are still alive is a great way to both receive fulfilment and reduce your estate for tax purposes. Firstly, you can give each grandchild (or anyone else in your life) up to $12,000 a year without having to report those gifts. Furthermore, if you are married, both you and your spouse can each make such gifts, even to the same person. Thus, a set of grandparents can give each grandchild up to $24,000 a year without gift tax implications.

However, if your grandchildren are young, or you do not wish to give then such a large sum to do with as they wish, you can pay for educational and medical costs. There is no limit on these gifts, provided that you pay the school or medical provider directly.

How Frequently Should I Have My Estate Plan Reviewed?

As a general rule, it is recommend that you contact a lawyer in the event of a dramatic change in your finances or in your family situation. For example, a substantial increase in your estate (through increased life insurance, inheritance, gifts, or successful investments) may create opportunities for tax savings. A divorce, marriage, or second marriage, is also a key time to review any will, trust, or other estate planning document that you currently have. Even if little has changed dramatically in you life financially or personally, you may want to have your estate plan reviewed every couple of years or so to see if tax laws have changed that may affect you.

I know I need to keep my will in a safe and secure place, so why can't I keep it in my safe deposit box?

On the surface keeping your will in a safe deposit box is a good idea. It's safe, secure, and inaccessible to anyone but you. However, it is precisely for this last reason that keeping your will in your safe deposit box is not a good idea. If your name is the only one on the box, your family will be unable to access it to get to your will without a court order. This can be a timely and costly process that can significantly delay your loved ones from managing your estate and receiving your bequests.

The best way to safeguard your will is to have your lawyer keep it for you. Most attorney's offices are equipped with fire proof safes and file cabinets designed to safeguard important papers and valuables. After depositing your will with your lawyer inform your family with regard to its whereabouts. Remember, after you pass on, the last thing you want your family worrying about is where your will is located.

My mother recently died and left a large amount of credit card debt. I am the executor of her estate and she left all her money to me. Am I liable for her debts?

As an executor of your mother's will, you must use her assets such as her bank accounts and her home (if it is in her name) to pay your mother's debts. You are not personally liable for your mother's debts. If, however, you distribute your mother's money and property to yourself before the debts are paid, you would be liable for her debts to the extent of the amount of the estate you received.

Furthermore, Massachusetts has very specific laws regarding potential creditor's rights. Even if you follow probate procedures correctly, most creditors have a year to file claims against an estate. Therefore, it is very important that you talk with your lawyer before you distribute any money to yourself.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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Stramer Law Offices
134 Main Street
Milford, MA 01757
Phone: 508-478-6944
Fax: 508-478-6949
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