By Nancy Brumback, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – “Everyone has an estate plan. But is it the one you want?”
Robert H. Ryan asks that question of families who have put off estate planning, pointing out that the government provides a method for handling estates, but the outcome may be far different from what people have envisioned.
Ryan, an attorney with 17 years” experience in tax law and estate planning, including 11 years with a major Boston firm, is now in private practice, with an office in Marlborough and the ability to see clients in other offices around the state and in Rhode Island. He also makes house calls if it's easier to meet a client at their home.
“Any individual or married couple needs to do estate planning,” Ryan emphasized. “It's not just for the wealthy. What varies by wealth is the complexity of the plan.”
Couples with minor children especially need to take some basic steps, he said, including creating a simple trust that permits the parents to control the disposition of assets and to pick who oversees those assets rather than have a court make those decisions. Couples should also appoint a guardian to raise their children, and that can be done through a will rather than a trust.
At the most basic level, Ryan said, people need to create incapacity documents and death documents. The incapacity documents are a power of attorney, a health care proxy and a living will. The death documents are a will and a trust to administer assets.
“Everybody needs the incapacity documents, otherwise someone has to go to court if you are suddenly unable to function, and it is expensive and time consuming,” he pointed out.
Even children heading off to college, for example, need those documents, Ryan said, otherwise parents have no legal access to a child's medical records and cannot make medical decisions once the child turns 18.
Most people also have more assets than they think they do??”a house, retirement plans, life insurance policies??”and need to put a plan in place to deal with those assets. “I recommend you look at each asset, how it is owned and where it goes,” he said.
“If you name people in your documents to receive specific assets, the court honors that. If you don's, people fight over them. Parents can do planning to minimize the fighting, for example, they may mandate the house be sold and the proceeds divided to solve the problem of which child gets the house.”
Creating a trust not only lets people control what happens to their assets when they die, it also can remove a lot of information about those assets from the public record by eliminating the need for an estate to go through the probate process, he said.
The first step, Ryan said, is to talk to an estate planning attorney, discuss the assets you have and what steps have already been taken. “Get a plan in place, then review it whenever you have a life-changing event,” such as the birth of a child, divorce, remarriage, business ownership changes.
Homeowners, he added, need to make a “homestead declaration” under a new Massachusetts law to protect between $500,000 to $1,000,000 in the equity in their home above the automatic $125,000 homestead exemption in the event they are sued, for example after an automobile accident.
Business owners need to consider succession planning and what will happen to the company after their death.
Ryan also specializes in elder law and the planning decisions seniors need to make and in helping families, which include children with special needs.
Estate Planning and Protection Law is located at 225 Cedar Hill St., Suite 200, in Marlborough. Additional information on the- services available is on the website, www.estateplanprotection.com or by calling 508-459-8509.