Estate Planning Documents

Last Will and Testament
A "Will", or a "Last Will and Testament", is a document made in which a person, who is often referred to as the "testator," sets forth what is to be done with his/her property after his/her death. In addition, a Will may appoint someone to serve as Guardian of any minor children upon your death.

For most people, there are two primary reasons for drafting a Will: (1) to avoid the state appointing someone other than the person you desire to be the Guardian for your children upon your death; and (2) to avoid your property from being given to someone other than the person or persons you want.

Emergency Guardianship of Children
Massachusetts Law allows parents to designate someone they trust, who understands what their wishes would be while they are incapacitated, to be a temporary guardian of their children in the event of an emergency. The manner in which you can designate such a person is by signing an Emergency Guardianship Proxy.

The Massachusetts Emergency Guardianship Proxy Statute provides security and peace of mind to parents by ensuring that they know who will take care of their children if they are unable to do so. The purpose of an Emergency Guardianship Proxy is also to provide others, such as teachers and health care providers, with the security of knowing who can speak for a child's parents if the parents cannot speak for themselves because they are unconscious for some reason.

Durable Power of Attorney
By signing a "Durable Power of Attorney" anyone can authorize another person, presumably someone who is absolutely trusted, to manage his/her business and financial affairs.

Because of the extent of the authority a Durable Power of Attorney can grant to someone else, you should be absolutely sure that when you sign such a document, that you absolutely understand its importance.

If a person becomes disabled or incapacitated, and can no longer manage his or her financial and business affairs, a court will often appoint a guardian or conservator to manage his or her affairs unless the person has executed a Durable Power of Attorney to designate someone to manage his/her affairs.

Many people have found that it is preferable to have a Durable Power of Attorney included with their Estate Plan in order to name someone they trust to manage their affairs if they are incapacitated.

Health Care Proxy
Massachusetts Law allows any person to designate someone they trust, who understands what their wishes would be if they could communicate, to be their Health Care Agent. The manner in which you can designate such a person is by signing a Health Care Proxy.

The Massachusetts Health Care Proxy Statute provides security to the person needing medical care, and also to health care providers. The purpose of a Health Care Proxy is to provide health care providers with a method by which consent to medical care can be given to the health care provider when the patient is not able to communicate.

Living Wills (Advance Medical Directive)
It is important to preface any remarks about "Living Wills," or "Advance Medical Directives" as they are often called, by alerting people to the fact that in Massachusetts these documents, in and of themselves, may not be legally binding. Unlike the Massachusetts Health Care Proxy Statute, which gives legal status to Health Care Proxies, there is no statute in Massachusetts that gives any legal status to "Living Wills."

However, by signing a Living Will, you are making a powerful statement regarding what your wishes would be under certain circumstances, such as being in a vegetative state.

A typical Living Will states what your wishes would be in the hypothetical event that you are either comatose or in some type of persistent vegetative state and your doctor states that there is no reasonable expectation of your recovery from physical or mental disability, and whether you wish to be kept alive by artificial means, such as life support or other "heroic" measures.

HIPAA Release
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) mandated the establishment of national standards for electronic health care transactions and national identifiers for providers, health plans, and employers. It also addressed the security and privacy of health data.

Basically, in order for anyone (including family members) to have access to what would otherwise be private health care information you need to authorize the release of such information to that person in writing by signing a "HIPAA Release Form" that complies with the HIPAA Law.

You may wish to sign a release authorizing the release of your private health information in advance to a spouse, or to your Health Care Proxy, so that person can have access to your health information in the event you are incapacitated and unable to make your own health care decisions so that they will be able to make informed decisions.

Declaration of Homestead
An Estate of Homestead is a type of protection for a person's residence, in the form of a document called a "Declaration of Estate of Homestead". The form is filed at the Registry of Deeds in the county where the property is located, referencing the title/deed to the property. It allows homeowners in Massachusetts to protect their property for up to five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) of the value of equity in their home, per family.

Trusts
A Trust is basically a legal arrangement where someone entrusts some property to someone else for that person to manage that property for the benefit of others.
The person managing the property is usually called the "Trustee" and the person or persons benefiting from this legal arrangement are generally referred to as the "Beneficiaries."

This basic arrangement can be a very powerful tool when used wisely, and may serve the fundamental basis for many aspects of estate planning.