Estate planning is critical for everyone, regardless of age or the extent of one’s assets.

We know the process can be confusing and overwhelming. As a result, people tend to put it off – sometimes indefinitely. However, proper planning today can be essential to protect children and family members and ensures your wishes are carried out in the event of a long-term illness, incapacitation, or unexpected death.

Our goal is to educate our clients so they can decide what plan works best for them.

We present a variety of planning options and outline the pro’s and con’s of each, answering questions and determining the subjective interests of the clients along the way. By the time the client understands how the process works, they have generally chosen which plan feels more appropriate for them. In this way, we honor our responsibility to be a “counselor” to our clients; you are and should be the decision-maker and we want you to make an informed decision.

We often tell our clients “this is not a transaction; it is a relationship.” Change is a near-constant in life and we try to be available to answer questions for our clients when changes in the law, health, or family circumstances make it necessary to update the estate plan we created. An estate plan is a living thing, and we try to help you tend to it so that it is exactly what you need when you need it.

It’s important to take into consideration the implications of long-term care.

Estate planning law is complex and constantly evolving, and working with a qualified estate planning attorney who is also versed in elder law will ensure you and your loved ones are prepared for whatever life throws at you.

Where to start: A Will

Most people equate estate planning to a Will. For some people, a Will is the best place to start, but Wills can also have unintended consequences, including probate. A Will is written instructions to a probate court that detail how a person’s assets are to be distributed after he or she passes. Probate is a court-supervised process that ensures the Will is valid and that all creditors have been paid before distributing funds to heirs. It is designed to be orderly, but the process can be lengthy. It is also somewhat public: the approximate value of the estate becomes public information, along with the names of beneficiaries, creditors, and natural heirs.

Settling an estate through probate will require an executor. If an executor is not appointed in a will, a court will appoint one. All assets will need to be accounted; and any claims made by creditors may hold up the process as well. Also, before beneficiaries can receive anything under a will, tax returns must generally be filed. This process can take a year or longer.

Where to start: Living/Lifetime Trust

Placing your assets in a lifetime trust can help minimize probate after your death. Lifetime trusts act as substitutes for wills and provide instructions on how your assets are to be managed during your lifetime and after your death.

For a lifetime trust to operate properly, it must be funded during your lifetime. You would typically be named as the trustee. If it is done properly (which is simple with good coaching), your assets will be distributed to your intended beneficiaries without court involvement. You retain the right to amend or revoke the trust at any time and to appoint or remove trustees of your choosing. If you specify, trustees must consult with you before buying or selling assets. Additionally, the trust does not need to file a separate income tax return until after your death.

Because estate planning law is complex and is constantly changing, and because of the importance of taking into consideration the implications of long-term care, it is best to work with a qualified estate planning attorney who is also versed in elder law when putting your plan in place. Titling the assets properly into the name of the lifetime trust is essential in order for your plan to work to its greatest advantage.