Offices in New Bedford, Easton & Hyannis
You have worked hard for the money and assets you have earned. Yet preparing for retirement is more challenging than ever. Your hard-earned assets may become threatened by the cost of healthcare, creditors, and state and federal taxes. One of the most effective ways to protect your assets is to use estate planning strategies customized for your circumstances. The estate planning team at Surprenant & Beneski, PC, is ready to help you create a comprehensive estate plan that will protect your assets and ensure that your final wishes are carried out.
At Surprenant & Beneski, PC, our friendly and experienced legal team guides clients through the process of estate planning step-by-step. We provide comprehensive estate planning services to clients in Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod, and the Islands. Our law firm focuses exclusively on estate planning and elder law services, and we are well-regarded in Massachusetts for adhering to the highest ethical standards. We will work closely with you to design an estate plan that suits your unique needs and goals.
Everyone Needs an Estate Plan
It’s easy to put off creating an estate plan with our busy lives, and thinking about our own mortality can be difficult. Understandably, many of us feel overwhelmed at the thought of creating an estate plan. Some assume that only the extremely wealthy benefit from estate planning. Another assumption about estate planning is that it only prepares for one’s passing. However, having foundational documents can be beneficial while one is living. The unexpected can happen to anyone; a medical diagnosis, a car accident or other situation could lead to someone’s incapacity. At a time like that, having a health care proxy, HIPAA authorization, durable power of attorney and advance directives will prove to be priceless. The point being, estate planning is beneficial for everyone. Regardless of your family circumstances or financial status, the best way to protect your loved ones and your assets is to speak with an experienced Southeastern Massachusetts estate planning attorney.
At Surprenant & Beneski, PC, we believe that everyone over the age of 18 will benefit from creating a basic estate plan that includes foundational estate planning documents. We have experience working with clients from a variety of different backgrounds. Whether you are just starting out in life, or you have a complex estate with significant assets, you need an estate plan.
We believe that there is no “one-size-fits-all” estate plan. Nonetheless, a well-conceived plan will include, at a minimum, a will, a durable power of attorney, and a healthcare proxy. Our experienced professionals routinely prepare a variety of essential estate planning documents, including:
- Last Will and Testament (Will) — A will is the most basic estate planning document. It declares how your property will be managed and distributed after you die. In addition, a will is the only way to name a guardian to care for your minor children. If you fail to create a will, the probate court will intervene to make these determinations according to the intestacy laws of Massachusetts, which may not agree with your wishes and may not protect your assets.
- Durable Power of Attorney — This document allows to you name a trusted person, either a family member or close associate, to manage your personal and business affairs (e.g. paying bills, managing property, monitoring investments), in the event that a physical or mental impairment leaves you incapacitated.
- Healthcare Proxy — This estate planning tool allows you to designate a healthcare representative to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.
- Advance Medical Directive — This document contains your preferences regarding health care instructions, including whether you wish to receive life support systems.
- Revocable Living Trust — A living trust is a trust that takes ownership of your property but also allows you to continue managing it during your lifetime. Unlike a will, a trust does not need to be probated since you no longer “own” the assets, which can save time and money, and also maintain the privacy of the financial arrangements. Another benefit of a living trust is that it can help to plan for incapacity while also minimizing estate tax consequences. It is worth noting that a trust must go through an administrative phase to carry out its terms.
- Irrevocable Trust — Unlike a living trust, an irrevocable trust is one that cannot be modified or altered during your lifetime, however, an irrevocable trust also avoids probate. This important estate planning tool is well-suited for those who wish to provide for a loved one with special needs, to plan for long-term care, to protect their assets from creditors’ claims or to achieve other important estate planning objectives.
- Living Will — This form of advance medical directive, though not legally binding, declares the type of end-of-life care you wish to receive or have withheld, such as a feeding tube or a ventilator, if you are terminally ill or incapacitated and cannot communicate those decisions.
- Guardianships — This estate planning tool can be established to protect an adult or minor who is incapable of caring for him or herself due to a serious injury, an incapacitating physical illness, or another medical condition.
Estate Planning at Every Stage of Life
Our legal team has experience working with single seniors, parents of young children, and non-traditional families. If you are a young family with children, we will help you create a Kids Protection Plan to protect your minor children should you pass away or become incapacitated. If you are heading toward retirement, we can help you enjoy your retirement while qualifying for nursing home benefits through MassHealth, should you need them. If you have a complex estate, or if you own a business, we will ensure that you protect yourself and your company with a thorough estate plan. Whatever your situation in life, we can help you create an estate plan tailored to your unique needs and goals.
Protecting Your Assets with Estate Planning
Estate planning will allow you to manage and protect your assets for you and your beneficiaries. When we create estate plans for our clients, we focus on protecting their assets from lawsuits, incapacity, and future creditors. You can still control your assets while protecting them from future creditors through asset protection planning. For example, you can transfer ownership of your assets into an asset protection trust and still maintain control. You can even change who you would like to benefit from your assets. Nobody knows what the future holds, and taking the time to protect your assets with a comprehensive estate plan will help you and your loved ones immensely.
Planning for Future Health Care Expenses
An essential part of estate planning involves preparing for future health care costs. Nursing homes in Massachusetts can cost as much as $10,000 per month. A long stay in a nursing home can deplete a person’s estate quickly. Asset protection planning will allow you to qualify for MassHealth benefits while protecting your assets for your beneficiaries. At Surprenant & Beneski, PC, we have an in-depth understanding of MassHealth regulations. If you are approaching retirement and are concerned about your healthcare costs, we can protect your assets and help you be prepared to qualify for MassHealth nursing home benefits should the need arise.
An Estate Plan Will Help You Protect Your Minor Children
Families of young children benefit greatly from comprehensive estate planning. If you are the parent of a minor child, creating a Kids Protection Plan can help you protect your child’s future. Without the necessary estate planning documents, your child could be placed into the care of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Family (DCF) if something were to happen to you.
Without the proper estate planning documents naming a guardian, a Massachusetts judge can decide who will raise your children for you, and your minor children could lose assets due to a lengthy probate process. The legal team at Surprenant & Beneski, PC can help you ensure that your estate plan protects your minor children. We will help you create a trust for your minor children that will bypass the Massachusetts probate process, and help you appoint a legal guardian for your minor children in the event you pass away or become incapacitated.
Foundational Estate Planning Documents
At Surprenant & Beneski, PC, we believe that there is never a “one-size-fits-all” approach to estate planning. Every estate plan is as unique as the client and their goals. That being said, there are certain foundational estate planning documents that every Massachusetts resident should have, including a will, a durable power of attorney, and a healthcare proxy. When we meet with new clients, we take the time to learn about their goals, their family circumstances and their financial situation. After carefully considering our client’s situation and goals, we will make recommendations to help them achieve the desired state.
We will also recommend asset protection strategies and strategies for retirement, including planning for the possible need for nursing home care. No estate plan is too basic, or too complex, for our lawyers to handle. Whatever your situation, we are prepared to create a comprehensive estate plan that meets your needs.
Creating a Last Will and Testament
The majority of Americans have put off preparing their last will and testament. If you have not created an estate plan, creating a will is an important first step. A will is the most basic estate planning document, but it is a powerful tool, nonetheless. Creating a will allows you to designate how you would like your property to be distributed after your death. Additionally, creating a will allows you to name a guardian to care for your minor children, an incredibly important aspect of estate planning.
If you do not create a will and you die “intestate,” a probate court will distribute your assets according to Massachusetts law. As a result, a relative you would not choose to inherit your assets could become your beneficiary. The best way to ensure that your estate goes to the beneficiaries of your choice is to create a will.
The Importance of Hiring an Estate Planning Attorney to Create Your Will
There are several websites dedicated to creating wills and other estate planning documents online, such as LegalZoom. When using these companies to create a will,their customers put themselves at risk of purchasing a will that is not legally valid in Massachusetts. These companies create wills based on generic forms customers fill out, which can cause a host of problems for your loved ones and beneficiaries. Hiring an attorney is always the best way to prepare a legally valid and effective will.
At Surprenant & Beneski, PC, we have an in-depth understanding of Massachusetts estate planning laws. We will ask questions to understand your unique situation and to prevent potential challenges to the validity of your will down the road. When you hire Surprenant & Beneski, PC to create your estate plan, you can rest assured that we will provide you with thorough, legally valid estate planning documents.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to name someone you trust, either a family member, a friend, or a trusted acquaintance, to manage your personal, legal and business affairs. If you become incapacitated due to mental or physical impairment, your appointed power of attorney will be able to make important decisions (and act) on your behalf. Should you become incapacitated, your loved ones may have a difficult time managing your affairs. For example, they may not be able to access your bank account or write checks on your behalf.
When you appoint a durable power of attorney, you can rest easy knowing that someone you trust will have access to your personal and business affairs. They can manage your property, monitor your investments, and pay your bills. Taking the time to create a durable power of attorney can spare you and your family significant stress in the event that you become incapacitated.
Health Care Proxy and Advance Medical Directive
A health care proxy is an estate planning tool that allows you to designate a healthcare representative to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Healthcare proxies are different from durable powers of attorney because they are limited to healthcare decisions. For example, you could appoint one person to act as your durable power of attorney to manage your financial and personal affairs, and another person to act as your healthcare proxy to make medical decisions on your behalf.
In addition to creating a healthcare proxy document, we also recommend creating an advance directive. This document will contain your healthcare preferences should you become incapacitated. Making decisions regarding a loved one’s healthcare can be extremely challenging. When you state your wishes clearly, your health care proxy will be able to make decisions knowing that he or she is honoring your wishes. Advance directives address decisions regarding end-of-life care, and treatment preferences related to medical emergencies.
Trust-Based Estate Plans
More than ever people are including trusts in their estate plans, and for good reason. Not everyone needs a trust as part of their estate plan, but a trust can be an important tool to accomplish specific estate planning goals. A trust is a legal agreement that allows you, the grantor, to transfer your assets into the trust. You can appoint trustees who will manage the trust on behalf of your beneficiaries. In many cases, the grantor who creates the trust also acts as a trustee.
There are numerous benefits to using a trust as part of your estate plan. When your assets are in a trust, your beneficiaries can avoid costly and often time-consuming probate court proceedings. Trusts are also useful tools for managing property on behalf of a beneficiary on a long-term basis. Avoiding paying taxes when possible is one of the most important parts of estate planning, and using a trust can provide you with certain tax exemptions. Finally, a trust can help protect your assets from creditors, lawsuits and loss to long-term care costs.
Revocable Living Trusts vs. Irrevocable Trusts
There are many different types of trusts used for Massachusetts estate planning. After thoroughly reviewing your financial situation and your estate planning goals, we will recommend the type of trust that will work the best for your estate. Revocable living trusts are some of the most popular trusts in estate planning.
As the name suggests, when you create a revocable living trust, you maintain the power to revoke the trust during your lifetime. You can also act as the trustee during your lifetime, and appoint a successor trustee who will manage the trust after you pass away. Revocable living trusts are beneficial in that they avoid the probate process. Depending on your circumstances, however, an irrevocable trust may better suit your needs.
Irrevocable trusts are often used as tax-planning tools that can help you preserve your assets on behalf of your beneficiaries, and protect them against creditors. When you transfer your assets into an irrevocable trust, the trust becomes the owner of those assets and changes your access to them. However, there are unique benefits that come with giving up control of your assets. For example, assets placed in an irrevocable trust do not count as income for the purposes of qualifying for MassHealth benefits. Irrevocable trusts are especially useful when providing for a loved one with special needs. These trusts will help you plan for their long-term care and to protect the assets in the trust from creditors.
We Offer Comprehensive, Cost-Effective Estate Planning Solutions
At Surprenant & Beneski, PC, we work hard to ensure that we tailor our clients’ estate plans to their needs and goals. Our experienced legal team is ready to discuss your concerns and wishes and provide you with a cost-effective estate plan. We will evaluate your family situation and advise you as to whether you would benefit more from a will-based or trust-based estate plan. Investing in a thorough estate plan will likely save you money over the long run.
Call Our Southeastern Massachusetts Estate Planning Attorneys
At Surprenant & Beneski P.C., we believe that estate planning is for everyone and that every estate plan should reflect each client’s unique situation and goals. Our attorneys advise clients in easy to understand terms so that they can determine what recommendations fit their needs best, protecting their interests and their loved ones.
Whether you only need a will-based estate plan or can benefit from a more complex trust-based plan, you will have confidence knowing that our legal team is here to guide you through the process. We also have extensive experience designing business succession plans for family businesses and owners as part of a comprehensive estate planning strategy. Today is the day to start planning your estate. We have offices conveniently located in Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod. Please contact us to set up a consultation.