Estate planning is all about planning for the people and things you care about. It is about maintaining your personal autonomy and protecting what’s important to you. Drafting estate planning documents, such as wills or trusts, allows you to exercise your right to:
- appoint someone you trust to make medical decisions for you if you’re alive but can’t make decisions yourself;
- appoint someone to make financial decisions for you if you’re alive but can’t make decisions for yourself;
- decide who gets what you own after your death;
- appoint someone you trust to be in charge of making sure your wishes actually are carried out.
Many people mistakenly think that estate planning is only for the wealthy; that simply is not true. Estate planning is for everyone, young and old, wealthy or not. Whether you have a little or a lot, you have worked hard for what you have and you want to be sure it is protected while you are alive, and goes to people you care about after you die.
Most people need the following basic estate planning documents:
- Will – a document that says who gets what after you die, and who is in charge of making sure that happens (that person is called your “Executor”);
- Durable Power of Attorney Instrument – a document that appoints a person (or people) you trust to make financial decisions for you if you’re alive but can’t make decisions for yourself;
- Health Care Instructions – a document that appoints a person (or people) you trust to make medical decisions for you if you’re alive but can’t make decisions for yourself.
Every family we meet with is unique and has their own story. Common situations we often plan for are:
- Planning for children of any age:
- Naming a guardian for children younger than 18. If mom and dad die and are survived by children younger than 18, who will raise them? This is not supposed to happen, but sometimes it does. You need to name a guardian who will raise your children until they are legally adults (18 in Connecticut), and maybe even until they can live on their own.
- Naming a trustee to protect money for a child who is too young to know how to manage it, or, who is old enough to know what to do but has special circumstances such as a shaky marriage or issues with creditors or outstanding debts.
- You want your second spouse to be comfortable, but you also want to be certain your children from your first marriage are treated fairly.
- You may own a family business and you want to give it to the child who is working in it with you. At the same time, however, you want to be fair to your other children.
- Planning for family members with special needs:
- Planning to give assets to a spouse, child, grandchild or other family member who has special needs in a way that allows that person to get the benefit of the assets without jeopardizing his/her eligibility for government benefits;
- Planning for second marriages:
- If you are in a second marriage, you may want your home to end up with your children from your first marriage, but, at the same time, you don’t want them to kick your spouse out the week after you have died. We can help you thread that needle.
- Planning to allow a second spouse to live in the marital home until one or more events occurs, at which point, the children from a previous relationship would receive the home;
- Planning to protect assets if one or both spouses require long term care:
- If your spouse won’t be able to live independently after you die (because you have become a primary care giver), we can help you protect what you have for your children without jeopardizing the quality of care your spouse will receive;
- Planning to protect assets if both spouses need long term care.
- Planning to reduce estate taxes:
- The federal estate tax exemption for property passing to anyone other than a citizen spouse is $5,450,000.00 (in 2016). The equivalent Connecticut estate tax exemption is $2,000,000.00 (in 2016). If either the federal or Connecticut estate tax is an issue for you, we can suggest ways to minimize or avoid the impact of the tax.
Because no two stories are the same and no two families are the same, your estate planning documents need to be carefully crafted to meet your specific circumstances and your specific goals and wishes. How do we get you to where you need to be? We listen to what you tell us about your family, what you have, who you like, who you trust, who you don’t trust, who has “issues” and who needs help. We take that information and put it into legal documents that express your wishes clearly but in a required legal format that anyone reviewing the documents will know and understand
Whether you have a lot or a little to plan for, you need a customized document tailored to your unique family and financial circumstances. If you’re a DIY type person, although you can find fill in the blank forms online, we don’t recommend taking that risk! You are using a cookie cutter form that assumes one size fits all. You deserve better than that and should plan better than that to make certain that your wishes are carried out and to give you and your family peace of mind.
We spend a lot of time practicing in this area of the law, as well as the closely related areas of long term care planning, Medicaid eligibility rules, asset protection planning, estate administration, owning a business, and real estate. These areas of law intersect and overlap time and again. That’s why, by design, we only practice in these areas of the law.
Our estate planning process is clearly set out with the goal of making estate planning an easy, positive experience that is convenient for you. We explain the documents we draft for you in plain English, we give you materials in plain English. If you’d like to take a look at our refined process, just ask. Or check out one of our online estate planning intake sheets.
Here’s what our clients have to say about working with us: