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In Case You Missed It: A Discussion with Sarah Ambrogi about Estate Planning, Trusts, and Leaving a Legacy for Your Heirs – Part 1

Our very own Sarah S. Ambrogi, Esq. recently had the honor of being featured as a keynote speaker at this year’s Silver Linings Senior Healthy Living Expo at Manchester Community College. We sat down with Sarah to discuss some of the most important points from her presentation and how adults in New Hampshire can prepare for the future and leave a lasting legacy.

What are some of the key questions to ask when beginning the estate planning process?

The estate planning process can feel very overwhelming at first and people often don’t even know where to start. What I’d like to tell people is let’s keep it to some very simple questions. And even if you can only give a rough answer to these questions, we can move forward with your plan. And the three basic questions are:

1. What?
2. Who?
3. When?

I start with “What?” because it is a shorthand version of saying: “What kind of plan are we going to put together for you?” as there are a number of different options. The “Who?” is a two-part question of “Who is going to be in charge of your affairs if you can’t manage them?” and “Who are your beneficiaries?” or the people that you really want to make sure you take care of. “When?” is a shorthand for asking: “When we identify your beneficiaries, do you have any concerns about them receiving their full inheritance at the time of your death? If so, we should be planning to structure their distribution, so it happens over a period of time. If you have at least some partial answers to those questions, we can get started.

Why should someone bother with estate planning?

I always like to say that life really is better with a plan. If you don’t have any kind of plan, then you are at the mercy of what the law basically dictates with your assets. Sometimes that’s going to be what you would expect it to be but, it doesn’t fit all family situations. For example: it doesn’t work well at all with blended families. Also, there can be some very unexpected results if you don’t have a plan and have simply gone about your life while jointly owning property with someone else, for example. If I asked you what you wanted to have happen, and then I told you what would actually happen based on the way the law dictates, you might not be happy. I think that having nothing formal in place, while it is a form of planning, is not the best plan.

What is an estate? Do I even have one?

A lot of people say that to me: “I don’t need to do anything – I don’t have an estate.” I like to say in response: “Do you own a car? Guess what? You have an estate!” Having an ‘estate’ does not mean that you’re a billionaire like Bill Gates; it simply means that you have accumulated assets like bank accounts, vehicles, real estate, investment accounts, maybe an IRA…all of those, no matter what their size, constitute an estate.

How can I get started?

You can start by asking yourself some simple questions, but one of the important things to do is to get your assets organized. A lot of times I’ll ask a new client “Who do you have as beneficiaries on your IRA?” and they’ll reply with “I don’t know…I did that a long time ago and I don’t remember.” That is the kind of information that is most helpful. Think about it at a very high level in terms of what you want to have happen to your assets. That is a running start for what I’m trying to accomplish, so by bringing organized information about your assets and a general idea about what you’re trying to accomplish, you can bring that in, and we can take it and turn it into a plan.