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Understanding Heir Structure During Estate Planning

In Massachusetts, a complex chart of potential heirs is used to determine who inherits an estate unless estate planning documents are in play. Understanding how the state courts view the heir structure can help ensure the estate planning process includes specific documents and language to protect heirs that may not be fully protected by the court alone.

For example, if a person dies and leaves a surviving spouse and that person didn’t have any biological children and the decedent’s parents are not living, then the surviving spouse would inherit the entire estate, according to the Massachusetts heir chart. The same is true in some cases even if the descendant and spouse have children together. However, if the decedent had children who are the stepchildren of the surviving spouse, then the surviving spouse inherits the first $100,000 of an estate and half of the remainder of the estate; the other half goes to the descendent’s children.

From the above information, it’s likely obvious that estate administration can become quite complex without a will or other document to guide probate. The Massachusetts heir chart goes further to consider situations involving parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and others as heirs.

Individuals who want more control over how their estates are distributed can leverage estate planning documents such as trusts and wills. Through such documents, individuals can give a detailed accounting of assets, along with whom those assets should pass to. Estate planning documents can also provide some measure of protection when it comes to creditors or taxes, but they must be created and executed properly, which is why it’s important to seek a strong legal understanding of such documents when planning for an estate.

Source: Massachusettes Probate and Family Court, “Massachusettes Chart of Heirs” Aug. 21, 2014

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