Exactly What Is Estate Planning?

When it comes to estate planning, you want to plan, protect and provide.

Have you ever wondered what is estate planning?

This important work can help you know what would happen to your loved ones if you were suddenly hospitalized and couldn’t take care of them. It can also address what would happen to your assets if you were to unexpectedly pass away. Do you have a plan?

Unfortunately, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts may have a plan for you, and it may not be what you want (and likely come at a high cost). 20WestLegal will review your unique circumstances and put in place an estate plan that will allow you the final say as to what happens to your family and assets.

Once we decide on a customized plan, if appropriate, we will work with your “team” (accountant, financial planner) to ensure that the plan works from all angles. 20WestLegal will routinely check in to ensure that no significant life changes have occurred which would require a change to your plan.

Last Will and Testament

A Will gives directions about how you want your assets divided upon your death. If you have minor children, it also nominates a guardian for your children if you pass away before they turn 18. The Will does not prevent your estate from going through the probate process (the court supervised process to settle the affairs of the decedent), it simply acts as a guide which the court will use throughout the probate process. A Will also names a Personal Representative (formerly referred to as Executor), or the person left in charge to manage the affairs of the estate.

A Will is not activated until you die. If you become incapacitated through an injury, illness or disease, the Will does not offer any help. In that case, there are other documents you might need and they may or may not be effective. (For a full explanation of those documents see Power of Attorney and Healthcare Directives below.)

Revocable Living Trust

A Living Trust not only gives directions for how you want things divided upon your death, it empowers someone (your Successor Trustee) to carry out your wishes without court interference. For married couples, a Trust may also contain tax saving provisions which could provide the estate with significant savings in Estate Taxes.

In addition, a Trust immediately provides the Trustee or Successor Trustee the power to manage all of your affairs should you become incapacitated or unavailable to do so. This could eliminate the need for court appointment of such a person (referred to as a conservator), which can take time and become a costly procedure.

A Living Trust usually carries more up front costs than a simple Will-based plan, but typically saves much more than the start up cost through its tax savings and probate avoiding mechanisms.
Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is a legal instrument that gives another person the legal rights to make certain decisions for you. The authority granted by a power of attorney can be very narrow or quite broad, depending on your needs. If the goal is to name someone who will make financial and business decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated or otherwise unavailable to do so.

Healthcare Documents/Advance Directives

An advance directive is a legal instrument that outlines the type of medical care you would want to receive should you lose the ability to communicate and/or make your own decisions.

Your healthcare proxy will name another (your proxy) who is able to make healthcare decisions on your behalf should you become incapable of doing so. This should not be confused with a Living Will which states that you would not like doctors to prolong your life should you ever become in such a vegetative state that there is no reasonable chance of recovery.


Do I need a Will or a Trust?

Many people start the estate planning discussion by telling their lawyer what kind of documents they want, typically either a Will or a Revocable Living Trust along with a few other important documents. We believe this approach is backwards. It’s like going to the doctor with a broken foot and telling her how you’d like to treat it, whether you want surgery or maybe just a cast.

The right documents to plan your estate can only be determined by reviewing your specific circumstances, including for example, your assets, your goals and family make up. Once these areas are explored, only then can an attorney make recommendations on an estate planning package that makes the best sense for your needs.