John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. Today, I’m here with Dan Doherty, an attorney and shareholder of MacLean Holloway Doherty Ardiff & Morse, one of the most prominent law firms on the North Shore of Boston, Massachusetts. Today, we’re talking about estate planning. Welcome, Dan.
Dan Doherty: Hi, John. How are you?
John: Good, thanks. Dan, what is estate planning?
Dan: John, estate planning can mean different things for different people. In our firm, a good summary of estate planning is the arrangement of one’s assets and affairs in a way that accomplishes asset protection, deals with issues that may involve disability, and then, lastly, the minimization of taxes in the probate process, if one dies.
John: What should I look for when I’m hiring an estate planning lawyer?
Dan: Depending upon one’s circumstances, if you’re a business owner and you’ve got a more complex estate, you’re going to be looking for someone who is versed in corporate law, estate taxes, income taxes, and has a general understanding of entities and how those work.
Also, somebody who would be your more typical estate planning lawyer, somebody who understands drafting of wills, drafting of trusts, and how those all interrelate.
John: What are the most important aspects of estate planning that a person should be thinking about?
Dan: Depending upon, again, where their situation is. If it’s a younger person, in looking at assets, are they involved in a business that exposes their assets to potential liability? Even if they’re older, they’re driving an automobile, we like to focus on those three areas.
Is there a potential for a liability event? Making sure that if there is that potential, that their assets are held in such a way as to minimize their exposure to creditors, making sure that they have sufficient levels of insurance, automobile insurance, homeowners insurance, umbrella liability protection.
If they’re in a business, making sure that their business provides an insulation, so that the inside liabilities of the business, the corporation, or the LLC aren’t going to impact their personal assets and potentially expose those personal assets to loss.
If they’re an older person and they’re more concerned about long‑term care, one of the things that they have to ask themselves is, “Who’s going to take care of me when I can’t take care of me? Where is that care going to be provided? How am I going to pay for it?”
If you’re a younger individual, if you’re disabled, is there going to be sufficient income coming into the home, in order to meet your obligations for supporting your family?
John: Is this something that everybody should do? Or is this something that you wait until you’re older or retired before you plan on this?
Dan: This is absolutely something that everybody should do. I think there can be somewhat of a misunderstanding. A lot of people think, “Well, it’s too complicated. I don’t need to get involved in that.”
Generally speaking, the people who have the most assets, they’ve already done this. It’s those people that have less to lose. When I say “Less to lose,” they haven’t planned their estate in a way to minimize probate costs. They haven’t taken advantage of certain simple documents that would protect them in the event they had a stroke or an illness.
Really, every single person should focus on, “What if something happens to me? Where are my assets going to go? How am I going to be able to pay my expenses? Do I have people in place that can take care of me? Am I going to have to depend upon the legal system to manage my affairs?”
John: What happens if I don’t have an estate plan?
Dan: If you don’t have an estate plan, then, as I said, the legal system will provide for you. If you’re disabled, a person interested in your affairs ‑‑ that could be a loved one, it could be a creditor. Anybody who has an interest in your affairs could petition the probate court to be appointed either a guardian or a conservator for you, and take control of those assets, and distribute those assets or manage those assets, and maybe not necessarily in the way that you would want those assets to be managed and utilized.
If you, on the other hand, die, the probate court has a process whereby your estate, your affairs, will be wound up, so creditors will be paid. The court has an orderly process by which a person will be appointed as your personal representative. That Personal Representative will be charged with paying creditors, paying taxes, and determining the heirs‑at‑law, and distributing those assets after all those expenses have been paid to those beneficiaries, your heirs‑at‑law.
John: All right. Well, Dan Doherty, thanks very much.
John: For more information, you can visit the firm’s website at mhdpc.com or call 978‑774‑7123.