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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 2

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.

Are there different types of plans or different ways of going about the process?

Sometimes people will come in and say: “I’ve been told I have to do a trust.” Well, the truth is no one has to do anything. As we talked about at the beginning, doing nothing is a form of planning. Where I would start is a basic plan that involves a will. A basic plan will also most likely involve financial and healthcare powers of attorney. There are also other ways that I like to touch on that are types of planning, such as:

  • holding real estate or other assets jointly with someone else
  • giving your assets away
  • holding things by having them all beneficiary designated

Those are all forms of planning. They each have the kind of their own pros and cons. But, before we even get to thinking about trust planning or will planning, other forms of ownership are all valid ways that you can think about planning and, while they may not work for all cases, they can certainly work for some people.

What does planning a will involve?

A will is simply a document that tells the probate court how your assets are to be distributed and who is to serve as your executor or administrator. What a lot of people don’t understand is that the document only really comes into its full meaning when you pass away.  A will is really a document that nominates someone to serve as the executor and it is subject to the probate court approving it. It also tells the probate court how you want your assets to go.

It is important to understand that a will and other forms of planning are sometimes mutually exclusive. If you have a will, it’s only going to govern those assets that are not held jointly and don’t have beneficiaries – that’s another place where people kind of get confused. I’ll hear people ask, “How come I didn’t get half of their IRA?” and it is because the IRA didn’t pass through the will due to the beneficiaries associated with it. Although a will is a powerful document, it’s important to understand what it will actually govern.

If I already have a will in place, are there other documents I might still need to complete?

Yes. If you put a will in place, you should also make sure that you consider a financial and a healthcare power of attorney. These documents are very important supporting players. Another way to think about them is that they are the documents that kick in while you’re still alive. When we think about planning, oftentimes, we immediately to think about what is going to happen when we die, but we rarely think about the fact that we may have a period during our life where we need help.

Healthcare power of attorney, a “living will”, or a healthcare advanced directive – those are all the same thing. If you become incapacitated to make your own decisions, a healthcare power of attorney is extremely important to have in place. You also may need someone to help do financial matters for you, which is the durable general power of attorney in the absence of those documents. You may be in a situation where, if you become incapacitated, your loved ones are going to have to go seek guardianship for you. Establishing guardianship is a very complicated process and very can be very expensive. If you are going to plan with a will, you need to think about what’s going through the will and what is designated by other means.