Life’s big moments – a wedding, birth of a child, or even a divorce – tend to get people thinking about their long-term life plans. Questions such as, “What will happen to my family when I’m gone?” or “Am I prepared for when my parents are no longer with us?” are more present in our minds when we pass a major milestone. Answering these questions can seem daunting. Bringing in a qualified professional to guide you through creating a comprehensive estate plan can ease that uncertainty.
Ben Siracusa Hillman is the chairman of Shaheen & Gordon’s Elder Law, Estate Planning, Probate, and Trust Group. We asked him to answer some questions about estate planning in New Hampshire for those who are just beginning the process.
Who needs estate planning?
Potentially everyone could benefit from estate planning. Often, clients come to our Concord estate planning attorneys following a significant change in their lives, such as the birth of child, a new marriage, the sale of a business, or a divorce. We also see clients create an estate plan after retirement, as they evaluate the later stages of life and their future long-term care needs.
It is a common misconception that estate plans are only for the wealthy. Those of modest means can often benefit from an estate plan just as much as those who are more affluent. Forgoing an estate plan can place significant costs on one’s beneficiaries that can be avoided with a well-crafted plan.
What’s the difference between an estate plan and a will?
A will governs what happens to one’s assets after one’s death, but only for a limited set of assets – assets that are individually titled and do not have a beneficiary designated. Writing a will is part of an estate plan, but it’s only one part.
In addition to the creation of necessary documents, planning includes the opportunity to have conversations and receive advice from an estate planning attorney about the options available, including planning for a beneficiary with special needs, a substance abuse problem, a bad marriage, or spendthrift habits. It also involves planning for one’s own incapacity and potential need for long-term care. Ultimately, a plan may include several documents, including a will, revocable trust, durable power of attorney for financial matters, durable power of attorney for healthcare, and others.
How often should one revise an estate plan?
Because concerns and needs can evolve and change over time, it is usually a good idea to check in with your Concord estate planning attorney any time a major life event has occurred, or at five-year intervals in the absence of such an event.
What do I need to begin estate planning?
Talking to a well-qualified estate planning attorney is a good first step. An attorney with expertise in estate planning will focus on your specific situation and provide advice on how to achieve your goals and provide security to you and your loved ones.
Preparing for that initial meeting with an attorney can help guide that conversation. Compile a list of your assets, liabilities and debts, and who you want to be beneficiaries of your estate. Also consider who would be the fiduciary – the person who manages assets in case of your incapacity or death – and also who would care for your minor children. Estate planning attorneys often provide a questionnaire that allows you to communicate this information in a structured way.
As you begin the process of estate planning, keep in mind that an attorney that focuses in estate planning can provide much more than a set of documents. An estate planning attorney provides expertise, time, experience, and knowledge so that you can be assured that the plan you are creating fits your circumstances and that any potential issues specific to you and your family have been explored.
To learn more about Shaheen & Gordon, P.A.’s Estate Planning, Wills, Trusts and Probate practice, or to seek assistance with any of these matters, contact Ben Siracusa Hillman.