Estate planning is a process which involves reviewing the client’s assets, family situation and long term goals with respect to the preservation of assets during life and the disposition of their assets upon their death. An estate plan is usually comprised of a Will, Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy and sometimes a Trust. Regardless of your age or marital status, everyone age 18 or older should at least have a Will, Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy in place.
I require all estate planning clients to complete a life/estate planning questionnaire prior to our consultation meeting and to bring it with them to our meeting. The questionnaire asks for very specific information about your assets, income, family and other important information. The reason for asking for this information is so that I can address all of your particular needs and point out any issues I see that may impede your estate planning goals at the time of the consultation. I will also conduct a brief review of any estate planning documents that you have in place at this time to determine if they are still sufficient to meet your needs and goals. Please keep in mind, however, that these documents should be drafted for your particular situation and that not all documents are the same.
While preparing and signing the necessary documents is critical, another important part of your estate planning is to know how other matters in and out of your control will affect your estate planning. For example, it is important to know whether any of the intended beneficiaries of your estate are receiving any public benefits so that your documents can be drafted in such a way so that the receipt of an inheritance from your estate will not affect that individual’s public benefits. Also, it is important to determine how your assets are owned, whether individually or jointly with someone else, and to review beneficiary designations on your life insurance, retirement plans, etc. as this will determine how and to whom these assets pass upon your death.
While many estate planning forms are available on the internet for you to prepare yourself, you should keep in mind that these forms are not tailored to the laws of your state, to your specific needs and you do not get legal advice as to what provisions should be included in them and how they affect you. Most of these “cookie cutter” documents are not prepared in accordance with Massachusetts laws and will not include all of the necessary provisions needed for your health and financial needs and you may be signing a document without understanding the ramifications of the language it contains.