Estate Planning can often be an overwhelming process. Attorney Lewis strives to design sound and creative estate plans to meet the needs of clients of all ages, not only elders, including Last Will and Testament, Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and specialized trust planning to cover a variety of issues ranging from asset protection to special needs to estate tax savings to probate avoidance.
A Will allows you to pass only individually owned assets to the people you choose in the amounts you choose after your death. If you do not have a Will, such assets will be distributed according to Massachusetts law. Any assets that are jointly owned (such as jointly owned real estate or joint bank or brokerage accounts), or with a beneficiary designation (such as a life insurance or an annuity policy) will pass automatically by operation of law to the joint owner or beneficiary named, and will not require probate. It is important to remember that just because you put it in your Will does not mean that it will happen, unless you: a) die; and b) have assets in your name alone.
A Durable Power of Attorney is a very powerful and important document which allows you to designate who will handle your financial affairs should you be unable to do so and is only effective during your lifetime. A Power of Attorney allows the person you have designated to not only sign your checks and do banking, but also to sign deeds, transfer property, sign tax returns, etc. While this document is generally intended to take effect only upon the incapacity of the principal (you), it is important for you to know that it is effective immediately upon signing, therefore it must be signed only after considering the risks, and kept in a safe place.
A Health Care Proxy allows you to appoint an agent and an alternate to make all health care decisions for you if your doctor certifies that you are unable to make informed decisions. The agent you name is legally authorized to consult with your doctor and have access to all of your medical information, in order to make decisions as you would, if able. Together with a Durable Power of Attorney, by executing a Health Care Proxy you will have in effect designated in advance who will take care of your finances and health should anything ever happen to you, perhaps without the need for court intervention via guardianship or conservatorship, which can be costly and invasive.
A specialty in Elder Law means Attorney Lewis is able to provide cutting edge asset protection planning for her older clients and for those with disabilities. Whether in a time of crisis in conjunction with a MassHealth application for long-term care benefits or as secure pre-planning years in advance of a crisis, Attorney Lewis can help you properly position and protect your hard earned assets.
Guardianship is a court action through which one can become legally appointed by a judge to make medical and health care decisions for another person who lacks the capacity to make such decisions on their own.
Conservatorship is similar, but grants legal authority to manage finances for those who cannot. Under the new Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code, all court actions against a person in need of care or protection strive to protect their individual rights, and can be very limited in nature, to ensure the person under protection retains as much autonomy as possible in their own decision making.
After a person dies, probate is the formal legal process that is used to transfer title (ownership) of property from the decedent (the person who died) to his or her devisees (persons named in any will) or heirs (persons named by law). In most cases, the court appoints a person called a Personal Representative to collect, manage and transfer estate property to the devisees or heirs. If the decedent left a will, the court determines if the decedent's will is valid. In most cases, probate can be avoided by creating a sound and effective Estate Plan.