Estate Planning and Empathy

em·pa·thy /ˈempəTHē/ noun/ The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

As we get older, we find that we become more empathetic because life has a way of humbling us to soften those sharp edges from our youth. But what does empathy have to do with elder law or estate planning? Everything! When you seek estate planning and elder law services, you want to feel that the law firm you are working with understands your concerns and goals from your perspective. Creating an estate plan and/or developing a strategy for long-term care are very personal issues. You want the attorney/law firm you work with to help provide options you feel confident will work for your unique situation. You want to trust that they have your best interests in mind and are not trying to apply a cookie cutter approach.

To find a law firm that will support you with this type of approach, look at their credentials and experience.  

  • Are the CELAs, Certified Elder Law Attorneys by the National Law Foundation? 

Our Managing Partners Dan Surprenant and Michelle Beneski happen to be 2 of only 24 CELAs in the state of Massachusetts.

  • Does the attorney / law firm specialize in Elder Law? This can be an important distinction as it better informs your estate planning strategies as you age.
  • How long has the firm specialized in the specific area of Estate Planning & Elder Law?

Our Managing Partners Dan Surprenant and Michelle Beneski are family, brother and sister. They took over the firm from their father 15 years ago. Working with him prior, Michelle and he decided to transition his general law practice, opened in 1965, to specialize in Estate Planning & Elder Law. This was the result of experiencing their own family care-giving crisis when his mother was diagnosed with Dementia. That experience showed their family how complex the issues related to long-term care planning can become and they felt compelled to create a firm that would be a resource for families to call on whether for advance or crisis planning. The law firm of Surprenant & Beneski prides itself on having a team of dedicated attorneys, paralegals and support staff that can guide clients through all stages of estate planning, offering strategic solutions. Additionally, our team can connect clients to other key resources within the community to help address their concerns.   

We want our clients to feel at ease when they come into our office. We want to help alleviate any concerns that burden them. When we think about how we serve our clients, we know that our first and most important job is to listen. We need to listen to them share their circumstances and their goals. Every individual and/or family that we meet has different reasons for coming to us. Some want to create a strong foundation to protect themselves (and their loved ones) should they become incapacitated or die. Others may come to us because they are concerned about preserving their assets for the next generation. Whereas others are concerned about an aging loved one that may need expensive long-term care. Others worry that estate taxes could diminish the intended legacy they wish to leave. Listening helps us to understand how the law may impact your goals. Often it helps us to identify additional risks that you may not have considered. Also, every question that you have is important and you deserve clarifying answers delivered with patience and understanding.

To ensure that your estate plan continues to work through life changes, we invite clients to return every 3 years for free review of their plans.  This is an opportunity for us to see how you are doing and learn if/how your circumstances have changed. We want to see if there is anything new in your family’s circumstances, any impacts to your finances, how are you and/or spouse doing physical or mentally. We’ll verify there are not any changes in contact information for agents and/or beneficiaries. Most importantly, we will confirm that your plan, as designed, is still working as you intended.

If there is another aspect of planning that you may require help with, even if outside of the scope of practicing law, we will try to help. We have a large network of professionals that we can reach out to facilitate the help you may need.

When an estate planning & elder law attorney does not lead with empathy, they will service their clients the way they see fit. Their recommendations will be based on their own opinion and not what concerns the client or how they wish to resolve their concerns. They may even apply a templated approach that doesn’t account for your individual needs and wishes.

On the other hand, a lawyer who is empathetic strives to build their entire client’s experience by standing in their client’s shoes. The lawyer will ask questions like: “What information would I want to know if I was this client?” and “How frequently would I want to be updated about my estate plan?” By standing in the shoes of the client, the attorney and their colleagues can service a client in a way that anticipates concerns and ensures that the client feels that they are in the driver’s seat. They feel heard. They feel understood. Better yet, they feel confident in the decisions they have made and the estate plan they have created.

Ultimately, serving clients with knowledge, professionalism and empathy is our goal at Surprenant & Beneski.

©Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. 35 Arnold Street, New Bedford, MA 02740, 336 South Street,   Hyannis MA 02601 and 45 Bristol Drive, Easton MA 02375.  This article is for illustration purposes only.  This handout does not constitute legal advice.  There is no attorney/client relationship created with Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. by this article.  DO NOT make decisions based upon information in this handout.  Every family is unique and legal advice can only be given after an individual consultation with an elder law attorney.  Any decisions made without proper legal advice may cause significant legal and financial problems.