Southeastern Massachusetts Elder Law Attorney

adult daughter embracing her mother

Elder Law Lawyer Helping Residents in New Bedford, Easton & Hyannis

Elder law includes estate planning and addressing issues related to long-term care planning, asset protection, retirement benefits, and health care decisions. As we age, we face unique challenges, such as paying for long-term care and enjoying a comfortable retirement. Working with an elder law attorney will help you protect your assets and prepare your finances for retirement. Elder law attorneys also assist clients with guardianship and conservatorship matters. 

When you need an elder law attorney, experience matters. Daniel Surprenant and Michelle Beneski, the law partners at Surprenant & Beneski, PC, are certified in elder law by the National Elder Law Foundation. We work as a team to provide our clients with a coordinated, comprehensive approach to addressing their legal needs. Contact our Southeastern Massachusetts lawyers today to schedule your initial consultation and learn how we can help you plan for your future. 

The Benefits of Contacting an Elder Law Attorney

Elder law is different from estate planning. It goes beyond drafting necessary documents. While estate planning focuses on establishing foundational documents, protecting your assets and the distribution of your property after you pass away, elder law addresses the best way for you to provide for yourself and your family as you age and enter retirement. An experienced elder law attorney will provide you with a coordinated approach to ensuring that you have the financial assets, legal protection, and healthcare you will need to enjoy your retirement. Elder law focuses on legal matters related to guardianship, health care decisions, and paying for long-term care. Our clients benefit from working with our experienced lawyers and support staff members. 

We highly value communication with our clients and work hard to respond to questions and concerns promptly. We can help you navigate the MassHealth system (to help off-set the expense of long-term care), understand which laws affect your elderly family member, and help you provide the documents you need to protect yourself as you grow old. When our clients need to apply for MassHealth benefits, our MassHealth team guides them smoothly through the process. You are not alone when you work with Surprenant & Beneski, PC. Instead, you’ll enjoy significant support from our entire team as we ensure you’re prepared for retirement. 

Important Estate Planning Documents for Elders 

Creating an estate plan is incredibly important as you age, regardless of your financial status or family background. Every person’s needs are different, yet there are certain essential estate planning documents that every elder should have:

  • Last Will and Testament (will)
  • Health Care Proxy
  • Durable Power of Attorney
  • Advance Directive 
  • Revocable Living Trust
  • Irrevocable Trust 

Avoiding Probate with a Trust

When we meet with new clients, we listen to their concerns and goals to help them create an estate plan tailored to their needs. Whatever your situation in life, the first step in creating an estate plan usually begins with writing a last will and testament, or often simply called a will. In some cases, we may advise clients to create a trust-based estate plan. For many people, however, a will-based estate plan is their best option. A will states how you’d like your property to be distributed after you pass away. Some people prefer to leave all of their assets to a single individual, such as their spouse. Others choose to divide their estate among family members, friends, and charities. You are in control when you write your will, and you set the terms regarding who will receive your assets when you’re gone.

Trust-Based Estate Plans

More people than ever are using trust-based estate plans to protect their assets and avoid probate. There are numerous types of trusts in Massachusetts, but the two main categories of trusts are revocable living trusts and irrevocable living trusts. In a revocable living trust, the person who creates the trust retains the right to manage the property during his or her lifetime.  In an irrevocable trust, the person who creates the trust cannot change or modify the trust. As we will see below, an irrevocable trust provides certain advantages over a revocable trust, namely that they offer more protection against creditors. We often use irrevocable trusts to help our clients maintain certain assets while achieving eligibility for long-term care benefits through MassHealth.

One of the key benefits of creating a trust-based estate plan is avoiding the probate process. When a person dies with a will in place, the probate court will administer the distribution of his or her property according to the terms of the will. When a person dies without a will in place, the probate court will distribute his or her estate according to Massachusetts intestacy laws. When you create a trust, your loved ones will not have to wait for the probate court to distribute your assets to them. Instead, you can transfer ownership of your assets into the trust and create a trust agreement that allows your loved ones to receive assets automatically upon your death. 

Planning for End of Life Care

Thinking about becoming ill and passing away can be difficult, but it’s important to consider what you’d like to happen should you become incapacitated. We can help you create a health care proxy, which is a legal document everyone over the age of 18 should have. You will designate a trusted friend or family member to act as your health care agent. Your agent will make the medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. Creating a health care proxy will ensure that someone you trust will be able to quickly make decisions for you on your behalf without having to petition the court to appoint him or her as your health care agent. In emergencies, every minute matters, and you want someone you trust to make decisions for you quickly.

Another important way to make your wishes known as to create an advance directive (living will). Living wills are not legally binding in Massachusetts, but they can serve an important purpose. In an advance directive, you will determine the type of medical care you would like to receive or have withheld. Making decisions for someone else who is incapacitated can be extremely difficult. By creating an advance directive, you will help your family members and health care proxy understand your wishes when it comes to end-of-life care. That will make it easier for them to advocate for your care and feel more confident in making critical decisions on your behalf.

Financial Representation 

An important aspect of elder law is to ensure that your financial affairs will be taken care of should you become incapacitated. We have witnessed many families who are struggling because their loved one didn’t create a durable power of attorney. When a person becomes incapacitated without creating a durable power of attorney, their loved one will not be able to access their bank account or write checks on their behalf. Family members struggle to manage their loved one’s business affairs without the legal authority to do so. 

When you create a durable power of attorney, you allow a trusted family member or friend to manage your business and personal affairs should you become incapacitated. If you are no longer able to make financial decisions on your own, your power of attorney will have the legal authority to pay your bills on time, access your financial information, and manage your Investments for you. This is particularly important in the case of individually owned accounts such as 401ks, IRAs, etc.. 

Planning for Long-Term Care 

The cost of nursing homes in Massachusetts continues to rise, with some nursing homes costing over $12,000 per month. Most Massachusetts families are unable to afford nursing home costs for themselves and their loved ones. One of the most important aspects of elder law is long-term care planning. Qualifying for MassHealth benefits is an important part of long-term care planning. Most private insurance companies do not cover the cost of long term care. Likewise, Medicare only pays for limited nursing home services on a short-term basis f. If you or your loved one needs help with light housekeeping, dressing, or other non-skilled care, Medicare will not be an option. 

When you qualify for MassHealth benefits, a nursing home stay will be covered. Unfortunately, qualifying for MassHealth benefits is difficult. Only applicants with very limited resources qualify for MassHealth benefits. Some of our clients assume that they will be able to give their assets to their children when they need to qualify for MassHealth. However, MassHealth has a five-year “look back” period. When applicants have given money away during this period, the assets will still count against them. 

You need an elder law employee who can help you structure your finances in a way that allows you to qualify for MassHealth. Our certified elder law attorneys understand the regulations related to qualifying for MassHealth, Massachusetts’ Medicaid program. The process of applying and qualifying for MassHealth benefits can be overwhelming, and we have staff members focused entirely on helping our clients navigate the logistics of MassHealth eligibility. . 

The earlier you begin MassHealth planning, the better. We utilize long-term planning strategies such as asset transfers, establishing an irrevocable Medicaid trust, and spousal income. Through long-term care planning, we can help you structure your finances so you can pay for your future long-term health care costs, whether through private or public means. 

Conservatorships and Guardianships

At Surprenant & Beneski, PC, our elder law attorneys have extensive experience representing clients in matters related to guardianship and conservatorships. When a person loses the capacity to make financial and health care decisions, a guardianship or conservatorship may become necessary. One of the ways to avoid guardianships or conservatorships is to create a durable power of attorney and health care proxy appointing agents you trust to make decisions for you should you become incapacitated. When someone becomes incapacitated without these legal documents, a Massachusetts court will appoint a guardian or conservator. 

Guardians have limited authority when it comes to making decisions for the incapacitated person, but they do have the authority to make health care decisions for the incapacitated person. Guardians must regularly provide reports to the court regarding their care of the incapacitated person. Conservators have greater authority to make financial and healthcare decisions for the incapacitated person. If you would like to be appointed as your loved one’s guardian, we can help you navigate through the process. Keep in mind that establishing guardianship or conservatorship is not always necessary. In some cases, the same goals can be achieved by creating a durable power of attorney and advance health care directive.

The Cost-Saving Benefits of Elder Law Planning

Engaging in elder law planning can save you and your family significant money down the road by avoiding probate costs and preventing you from spending your assets on long-term health care. Elder law issues are often incredibly complex. Our legal team can help you identify any legal “red flags” that could cost you and your estate significant money, resolving them effectively. Our legal team desires to help our clients enjoy their retirement and feel secure financially. We have helped many seniors save a significant amount of money in the long term  by protecting their assets.

Contact an Experienced Elder Law Attorney Today

Thinking about matters involving long-term care and/or end-of-life care can feel overwhelming. Many of our clients feel like they don’t know where to start when it comes to elder law matters and estate planning. Another benefit of working with our team is that we will guide you through the process. After listening to your concerns and goals and getting an idea of your financial situation, we will identify the legal documents you need to protect yourself and your assets. We will communicate effectively with you throughout the entire process so you understand your options and the purpose of each document and strategy recommended. Our team will answer your questions and make sure you feel confident about your decisions. If you need an experienced elder law attorney, we can help. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.