What to Consider When Estate Planning

elderly couple signing some documents

The estate planning process involves designating your assets for distribution to the people or charities of your choice after you pass away. Thinking about our deaths can be unpleasant, but estate planning allows you to ensure your wishes are followed after you pass away. There are several important issues you should consider before you begin the estate planning process with your attorney.

Contact a Southeastern Massachusetts Estate Planning Attorney Today

The estate planning attorneys at Surprenant & Beneski, PC, have helped many Southeastern Massachusetts residents navigate the complexities of estate planning. Our empathetic and compassionate attorneys can help you understand your options and navigate difficult estate planning topics. Many of our clients stay with us for life with their children becoming clients as adults. Contact Surprenant & Beneski, PC, today to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help you create an effective estate plan.

When and How Your Beneficiaries Receive Assets

Without an estate plan, you won’t have the final say about who will receive your assets. Without a will or trust in place, your assets could be distributed according to Massachusetts’ probate laws, resulting in a person you wouldn’t have chosen receiving your assets. Additionally, legal disputes can arise among your surviving loved ones without an estate plan. 

Creating an estate plan allows you to choose when and how your assets will be distributed. First, you’ll need to decide who you’d like to receive your assets from after passing away. Beneficiaries can include individuals, non-profits, charities, and religious organizations. Once you decide who will inherit your property, you must consider how you’d like them to receive your property. 

Are you comfortable with all of your beneficiaries receiving their whole share immediately? Would you like your minor children or grandchildren to be a certain age or reach a certain goal, such as graduation from college, before obtaining their inheritance? Do you have special considerations, such as a beneficiary with special needs, creditor-related issues, or other complicated issues? These are important considerations you can discuss with your estate planning attorney.

Is a Trust-Based or Will-Based Estate Plan Right For You?

There are two useful types of estate planning documents to distribute your assets according to your wishes: a will and a trust. A will is a legal document that designates how your assets will be distributed to your loved ones. A trust is a legal entity that holds property and assets, typically used to minimize estate taxes and avoid probate.

To decide whether you’d like to use a will or a trust, you will need to decide when and how you’d like your assets to be distributed. For example, if you would like your assets to be distributed to your beneficiaries over time under the supervision of a trustee, creating a trust may be best. A will-based estate plan could be the best option if you have a relatively straightforward estate.

If you are unsure whether a will-based estate plan or a trust-based estate plan, the attorneys at Surprenant & Beneski, PC, can help you evaluate your options and choose the best option for your estate planning needs. 

Guardians and Conservators for Minor Children

If you have minor children, you can use your estate plan to appoint one or more guardians and a successor if your first choice cannot or won’t serve. Choosing a guardian isn’t always easy, especially if you and your spouse don’t agree on a choice. An estate planning attorney can provide you with suggestions. Taking time to carefully consider and decide on a guardian will ensure that you aren’t giving a court the authority to appoint a person to act as a guardian you may not have chosen.

Whether to Equalize Your Distributions 

For parents and grandparents, deciding whether to divide your assets equally can be challenging. You may decide to include lifetime gifts made to your beneficiaries when calculating how many assets to give to each beneficiary. For example, suppose you paid for college tuition, weddings, or a down payment on a home during your lifetime. In that case, you may decide to deduct those amounts from that child’s distribution. 

If you have younger children, your estate plan can ensure you don’t short-change the younger child if you pass away before paying for these life events. Perhaps you have a child who struggles with addiction. In that case, equalizing the inheritance may not be a priority. Depending on your circumstances, placing one or more beneficiary’s assets in a trust for protection may be necessary. 

Meaningful Personal Property Considerations

Many people have items of tangible personal property that have sentimental value or are family heirlooms. If you have personal property that you’d like to give to one specific person and not give to your surviving spouse, children, or a charity, it’s wise to make a list of items and who should receive them before you begin estate planning.

Healthcare Preferences

In addition to creating a plan for your assets, you’ll also need to plan for your medical health choices. Taking time to consider what type of medical treatment you’d prefer in an emergency medical situation is essential. Your estate plan should include an advance health directive that states your medical preferences and appoints a health care agent you trust to make decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. 

Thinking about end-of-life and emergency medical situations can be stressful. The attorneys at Surprenant & Beneski, PC, can guide you through these difficult topics while answering any questions you may have. It’s also wise to consider the possibility of needing long-term care. An estate planning attorney can help you protect your assets while planning for the future.

Reach Out to an Estate Planning Attorney

Taking time to consider the estate planning topics listed above can help you begin the estate planning topic. The estate planning process can be overwhelming for many people, but you aren’t alone. The attorneys at Surprenant & Beneski, PC are here to answer your questions and help you navigate the process. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.