What Estate Planning Documents Should I Have?

Every Massachusetts estate plan is unique, but there are certain legal documents that most estate planners need. Each of these documents serves an important purpose, which is why they’re used so frequently in estate planning. With many Americans’ busy lives, it’s easy to procrastinate creating these foundational estate planning documents

Estate planning doesn’t have to be challenging, and the attorneys at Surprenant & Beneski, PC, are here to help you. When you work with us, our experienced and competent estate planning attorneys will help you understand and complete all of the essential documents you need to protect yourself, your assets, and your surviving loved ones. Reach out to Surprenant & Beneski, PC, today to schedule your initial consultation. 

Last Will and Testament

A last will and testament is the most basic estate planning document. It’s also the estate planning document with which most people are familiar. When you create a will, you will be able to state your wishes regarding how your assets should be distributed. For example, you can state that you would like your three children each to receive one-third of your estate after you pass away. You can also use your will to create a testamentary trust after you pass away. If you are a parent of a minor child or children, you can appoint a guardian for your children in your will. The Massachusetts probate court will consider distributor assets according to the terms outlined in your will. 

Your last will and testament can be updated if you have any significant life changes, such as a death in the family, divorce, the birth of a child, or an adoption. We recommend reviewing and updating your last will and testament from time to time and if you experience any of these life changes. Massachusetts has requirements for creating a valid will, which include signing the will in front of qualified witnesses. 

Sometimes Massachusetts residents don’t think they need a will because they don’t have enough assets. Our attorneys advise everyone over 18 to create a will regardless of their level of income and assets. The estate planning attorneys at Surprenant & Beneski, PC can help you create a legally valid last will and testament. We can also help you update your will when needed.

Trust Agreement

A trust agreement can be an important estate planning document. Many estate planners are choosing to create trust-based estate plans. When you create a trust, your beneficiaries can access your assets after you pass away without going through the probate process. The probate process can be expensive and time-consuming. When you create a trust, you can ensure that your beneficiaries will have access to the assets within the trust quickly after you pass away to pay for funeral expenses and other costs. There are many different types of trust, and the attorneys at Surprenant & Beneski, PC, can help you create a trust agreement that addresses your individual situation and goals.

Durable Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney is an important legal document. You, as the principal, can appoint someone else to act as your agent if you have an incapacitating illness or disability. The agent you select will have the legal authority to make financial decisions on your behalf, including preparing and executing a will. They can also access your financial accounts, pay your bills, and ensure that your financial obligations are met. Without a durable power of attorney, the probate court will have the legal authority to appoint a guardian to make decisions for you. Creating a durable power of attorney and appointing someone you trust can help you avoid legal complications, uncertainty, and unnecessary expenses.

Health Care Proxy

You can appoint someone you trust to act as your healthcare agent with a healthcare proxy. Your agent will be able to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated and can’t make your own decisions. A healthcare proxy can also be called an attorney-in-fact or a healthcare agent. If you do not have a healthcare proxy, your loved ones will be required to go to court and obtain one, compounding an already stressful situation.

For example, suppose you were involved in a car accident and needed to be placed on a ventilator while you were unconscious. Without a healthcare proxy, your family would not be able to make critical medical decisions for you. They would have to petition the court to gain authority to do so. The person that the court would choose to be your agent may not be the same person that you would choose, and it may not be someone you trust. Including a healthcare proxy in your estate plan gives you the power to appoint someone you trust to make critical decisions about your health care.

Advance Healthcare Directive

Advance healthcare directives include guidelines for what types of medical treatment you would like in life-threatening situations. For example, you can state whether you would like to be placed on life support or would like to discontinue life support. Advance directives are not legally binding in Massachusetts, but they can provide your loved ones and doctors with guidance, helping them follow your wishes.

HIPAA Release

A HIPAA release is a document that allows doctors and other healthcare providers to provide healthcare information about your condition to a third party. The person you will point to receive information in the HIPAA release won’t have to obtain written authorization from the patient. If you are in a medical emergency, your family members won’t be allowed to receive information about your medical condition without a HIPAA release. HIPAA releases can help your loved ones make informed decisions in life or death situations.

Do You Need Guidance With Your Estate Planning Documents? Our Attorneys Can Help

The above is an overview of some of the foundational estate planning documents you should have in Massachusetts. Each document should be tailored to your personal circumstances as no single approach or template works for everyone. Working with a skilled attorney is crucial to protecting your interests and rights with something as important as an estate plan. Contact Surprenant & Beneski, PC today to schedule your initial consultation.