Why Estate Planning Is Essential
Estate planning is an organized approach to determining your goals for the future and mapping out ways to protect your assets and your family as you take steps to achieve them. To this end, the attorneys of Surprenant & Beneski use our experience and know-how to help you choose the estate planning tools best suited to serve you efficiently and effectively in terms of:
Providing For Your Loved Ones
Estate planning ensures your loved ones are financially secure after your passing. By clearly defining beneficiaries, you can ensure assets are distributed as you intend, providing you with peace of mind. Protecting minor children is of paramount importance. Your estate will also name a guardian for your children in case of unanticipated tragedy.
Preventing Family Disputes
Inheritance disputes can divide families. A well-crafted estate plan clarifies your intentions, avoiding the ambiguities that may result in discord, resentment, and alienation, none of which you want to leave as your legacy.
Protecting Assets by Minimizing Costs
The strategic planning we do with you to avoid the time-consuming, costly process of probate will ensure that your loved ones receive the assets you want them to have, undiminished by unnecessary fees. You will find our in-depth knowledge of Massachusetts inheritance laws profitable as well as practical.
Massachusetts residents may, depending on their net worth, have to pay state estate tax. Through careful estate planning, we will assist you in minimizing the tax burden on your heirs by employing strategies such as annual gift-giving and trust creation. Federal estate tax may also be a factor depending on net worth.
Dealing with Healthcare Concerns and Potential Incapacity
Life is nothing if not unpredictable. One of the major benefits of having an estate plan is that you will have all necessary documents — such as durable power of attorney and advance directive — prepared in case a serious accident, illness, or medical event incapacitates you.
Providing Control Over Asset Distribution
Creating a last will and testament gives you the ability to control the way your assets will be distributed when you pass away. If you die without a will, the state will distribute your assets according to Massachusetts laws of intestate succession. These laws regulate inheritance according to bloodline considerations only and may not accommodate your personal desires.
Ensuring Your Wishes Are Carried Out
Beyond distribution of assets, estate planning addresses multiple issues from charitable donations to business succession to end-of-life decisions. Creating a comprehensive estate plan gives you the opportunity to ensure that your wishes on various fronts are respected and followed.
Estate Planning is as Much About Life as Death
Everyone should have a right to autonomy; estate planning is all about preserving that right. The following foundational documents, each an integral part of estate planning, provide you with the power to make your own decisions or choose a trusted individual to make them for you if you become incapacitated:
- Durable Power of Attorney (for financial & legal decisions)
- Health Care Proxy
- Advance Directive
- Last Will & Testament
Your last will and testament enables your intentions to be implemented even after you die.
Steps in the Estate Planning Process
Estate planning, like so many significant undertakings, involves several steps, including:
In order to begin planning your estate you must take a comprehensive inventory of your assets. Your estate includes bank accounts, real estate holdings, investments, vehicles, collections, and personal possessions of worth like jewelry or paintings.
Identifying Your Primary Beneficiaries
Think about those you wish to benefit from your assets, not only heirs but other beneficiaries, e.g. close friends or relatives (regardless of bloodline status), beloved pets, institutions that have served you well, and charitable organizations.
Consulting with Professionals
The role of an estate planning attorney is a critical one. This individual is the one who has the in-depth legal knowledge to see that all measures you take in planning your estate are legal and binding, that all documents you sign are valid and detailed precisely to your specifications, and that your wishes are unambiguous and effectively conveyed.
Financial Advisors, CPAs, and Their Input
As your estate planning lawyers, we will coordinate with experts in related financial fields, e.g. financial advisors, CPAs, and insurance brokers, to take advantage of varying perspectives on optimizing asset distribution, minimizing taxes, and making informed decisions regarding the value of using insurance as a cushion.
Because laws, as well as personal circumstances, change, our attorneys’ continuous collaboration with other professionals is essential to ensure that your estate plan is the best it can be.
Important Estate Planning Documents Explained
As your dedicated estate planning attorneys, we will draft and execute the documents you need to protect you and your loved ones now and in the future. These documents are carefully crafted to help you confront any eventuality and include:
- Will to detail how you (the testator) want your assets distributed. In order to be fully effective, it must provide clear instructions to avoid potential disputes, ensure each beneficiary’s intended share is spelled out, name your personal representative (executor), and designate a guardian for your minor children. All wills in Massachusetts must be probated unless the assets are held jointly, assigned to another as a designated beneficiary, or held in a living trust.
- Trusts are legal entities designed to hold assets for your beneficiaries. Different types offer various benefits, such as tax advantages or probate avoidance since they remove the included assets from estate ownership. Trusts also make it possible to specify conditions for asset distribution, such as age or educational achievement.
- Powers of attorney allow a chosen person to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. There are three types of power of attorney in Massachusetts: general, special, and medical, each defining the scope of powers granted to the agent.
- Health care proxy this document enables an individual you choose to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you become unable to make your wishes known in a healthcare crisis.
- Advance Directive / Living Will this document states your wishes regarding life-saving medical treatments you want to receive or refuse (e.g. intubation, feeding tube) if you can’t communicate your preferences. It differs from a healthcare power of attorney in that it serves as a direct communication of personal preferences rather than naming a person to make decisions on your behalf.
Notably, an advance directive, though not legally binding in Massachusetts, can be extremely helpful to family and medical staff as they make critical decisions.
- Beneficiary Designations apart from your will, you probably have retirement accounts, life insurance, and other assets with beneficiary designations. These must be re-evaluated regularly to ensure they align with your current intentions since not only situations but relationships, can change over time.
Planning for Tax Implications
Our estate planning lawyers are well-informed about state and federal estate tax laws and know how best to minimize the estate taxes that might otherwise erode your heirs’ inheritance. This capability is crucial when it comes to high-net-worth estates. Surprisingly, many Massachusetts families may be impacted by state estate taxes as it is currently set at $2M. That may seem like a high estate value but with the calculation of a family home, retirement accounts, vacation property, etc., it is far easier to reach the $2M mark than most realize.
We will show you several ways to make sure your beneficiaries receive the maximum amount they are entitled to by using various tax reduction strategies like setting up trusts for specific purposes and gifting your beneficiaries while you are alive.
Updating and Reviewing Your Estate Plan Regularly
Changes in the law may necessitate an update of your plan and you can count on our lawyers to keep you apprised of any such change as soon as a new law is enacted. More commonly, events in your own life may trigger a review. Such changes include marriage, the birth of a child, the death of a beneficiary, the purchase of new property, a divorce, or remarriage.
At Surprenant & Beneski, we are well aware of the dynamic nature of life. For this reason, we integrate a free 3-year review of your estate plan into our services to make certain that your estate plan remains robust and relevant to your evolving needs.
Common Questions About Estate Planning
Isn't Estate Planning Just for the Wealthy?
The idea that estate planning is just for the wealthy is a myth with unfortunate consequences. Almost everyone has assets, such as bank accounts, a car, or personal possessions as well as beneficiaries who want to inherit these assets when they pass away. Not taking the time to plan your estate can hurt those you love, especially minors who require a trusted guardian when you are no longer there.
Can't I Just Write My Own Will?
While a DIY will offer a quick and inexpensive solution, they are prone to errors or oversights that may render them invalid and may make them inappropriate in your particular situation. A knowledgeable attorney will make sure that your will is in keeping with your wishes and fully compliant with Massachusetts laws.
What Happens if I Don't Have an Estate Plan?
Without an estate plan, the distribution of your assets will be taken over by Massachusetts intestacy laws which may not align with your desires. Since these laws are predicated only on bloodline connections, not close relationships, your assets may wind up in the hands of a distant cousin rather than your best friend.
How Often Should I Review My Estate Plan?
There is no single answer to this question. Though our practice offers free reviews of your estate plan every 3 years, major life events like marriage, birth, purchase of property, or changes in financial status necessitate a review. We will also get in touch with you if changes in Massachusetts or federal law require an update of your estate plan. It should also be remembered that changes in a relationship may also prompt you to alter your choice of executor, guardian, or trustee.
What if I Don’t Have an Estate That Needs Tax Protection?
The term “millionaire” no longer carries the weight it used to. Now that a solid chunk of U.S. homes sell for over $1 million, and that a great many residents have other assets in addition to real estate, meeting the threshold for Massachusetts estate tax is considerably easier than it used to be. Consulting one of our skilled estate planning attorneys will help you determine whether your estate qualifies for estate taxes and whether there are legal ways to bring it below the threshold.
Let Surprenant & Beneski Be Your Partner in the Estate Planning Process
Whatever stage of life you’re in, estate planning should be a priority. Whether you are planning to marry and raise a family, starting a career or building a business, preparing to send your child to college, planning your retirement, or dealing with the concerns associated with aging, this is the time to consult with one of our seasoned professionals. We will help you shape your future, protect your loved ones, and take control of your life and your legacy.