Couple enjoying warm weather in winter

Estate Planning for Snowbirds: What To Consider

For many individuals and couples, the ideal retirement includes two homes one in their original northern state, familiar and cozy, and one in a warm southern clime in which to relax and avoid the chill and inconvenience of a northern winter. Thus, they choose to become “snowbirds,” traveling back and forth seasonally to have the best of both worlds. 

At Surprenant & Beneski, our estate planning attorneys have helped a great many clients arrange their estate plans to accommodate this lifestyle. Below are some important things to consider as you contemplate having two comfortable nests.

Choose a State to Call Home

Although you can freely go back and forth between your chosen residences, you can legally only have one “domicile state.” Choosing which state you will call home may have significant consequences since it can affect tax liabilities, estate laws, and healthcare provisions. 

Factors to consider as you make your choice include:

Duration of stay: The time you spend in each state. Generally, if you spend more than half the year in one state, it’s considered your primary residence.

Which state you use for: your mailing address for vital documents, to register your car, to vote in, and to file your income tax return.

Financial Ties: Where your financial interests (bank accounts, investments) are primarily located can influence your domicile choice.

Family Connections: Proximity to family can be a deciding factor, especially if a health crisis or some other emergency arises.

Tax Considerations: State estate taxes vary. For instance, Florida has no state estate tax, while Massachusetts does. It is essential to know the relevant laws in each state to make an informed decision and minimize your tax liabilities.

Probate Considerations: Probate laws also vary by state, impacting how your estate is settled after your death since it will be probated in your domicile state. Because some states have more streamlined probate and in others, probate is more complex, it is advisable to understand the probate process in both states before making your choice.

Healthcare Considerations: Since the majority of snowbirds are older individuals, healthcare is likely a priority in your estate planning. For this reason, we recommend considering the following factors:

  • Leaving Your Medical Team: Transitioning between healthcare providers in different states can be challenging. It’s essential to have a plan for maintaining continuity in your healthcare. While some snowbirds return to their northern state periodically for healthcare visits, it is best to have a local team of doctors who are familiar with your unique medical issues. Often doctors in both states can confer with one another to provide optimal care.
  • Access to Specialists: In many cases, the availability and quality of specialists varies from one state to another. If you have a particular medical condition, you may want to receive healthcare from the best specialist (or best hospital) available.
  • Family Support: Proximity to the support system provided by family may become your top priority during ill health or incapacitation.
  • Emergency Situations: Nonetheless, during a healthcare crisis, you must have urgent healthcare wherever you are. With a bit of information and effort, snowbirds figure out how to make their lifestyle safe and comfortable in both locations.
  • Preparing for Medicaid (MassHealth): Because the laws governing estate planning and Medicaid benefits differ from state to state, you should have your documents reviewed by an attorney in both states

Legal Documents for Each Location

Snowbirds should ensure that their estate planning documents are valid in both states. This may require having separate sets of documents or ensuring that one set complies with the laws of both states. Our attorneys are well-prepared to help you with this and other matters related to your lifestyle. We will make sure that you have all necessary key documents, including:

  • Will: to distribute assets according to your wishes.
  • Trust, if desired, to protect your assets from probate and/or estate taxes or, for example, to provide for a beneficiary with special needs.
  • Power of Attorney: to designate the person who will make financial and legal decisions on your behalf if you are unreachable or incapacitated.
  • Health Care Proxy: to name the individual who will make medical decisions for you if you are unable to communicate your wishes.
  • Living Will that will state which medical interventions you want at the end of your life.

Contact Our Experienced Snow Bird Attorneys

If being a snowbird sounds perfect to you and you now live in Southeastern Massachusetts, contact one of our offices today. We will be happy to discuss your best options and prepare the necessary documents to protect your assets, and keep you and your loved ones financially secure going forward.