Working Parent 411: Planning for the Future

Welcome to Soutiens Working Parent 411: Expert Voices video series


In our newest video series, Amanda and Sarah share short interviews- 15-20 minutes - designed to help you feel more confident at work and home.


Today we welcome Sarah Hartline to talk with us about planning for the future. To be more specific, the much-procrastined topic of estate planning.


Hello, Sarah!



{Transcript of interview}


Sarah Hartline

Thank you. I mentioned before the recording started how pandemic life is so much like maternity leave, a little bit of the same feeling. It's funny now talking to you now because I feel like you probably have a good sense of what my life is like now.


I’m Sarah Hartline. I am an estate planning attorney with Margolis and Bloom. We are a small firm based in Wellesley but we are 100% virtual now. We work with lots of young families. We build relationships to work with the family at every stage in their life to get their estate plans set up and giving them peace of mind in making sure their affairs are taken care of.


Amanda, Soutiens

This is so important for new families. And speaking from experience, this is something that can be easily pushed off by new parents. As families know more, hopefully it will move closer to the top of those to-do lists. Can you start at the beginning for folks who aren’t familiar with estate planning? It is so much more than “I need a will”, right?


Sarah Hartline

Yes, a common misconception is that estate planning is just “post-death” documents. As new parents, that may be something that we don’t want to do and that often makes us want to put it off. There is a statistic that shows an average of 3 years from the time a parent first says “we need to do estate planning” and actually doing it. It’s hard to do. You have a million other things on your list - like feeding the kids and making sure that everyone is safe. So you have these more urgent things and planning ends up on the bottom of your list.


However, I think the most important part about estate planning is naming the power of attorney and a healthcare proxy. Those are documents that if something were to happen to you, if you were to be hospitalized, that you have appointed someone to make decisions for you and someone who would be able to access bank accounts. A lot of people have assets in multiple accounts. Sometimes with the name of one spouse, or the other, or both. It's really important to be able to have access to these accounts documented so that if something happens the spouse or proxy will able to do what's necessary, and to make medical decisions.


That’s one side: the estate planning while you are living to have these agents and documents in place so people can step in and help. And then there is the other side. In the unlikely event that something happens to you, you want things to be taken care of and that the process isn’t overly complicated and difficult for your loved ones.


Amanda, Soutiens

It really is about that peace of mind. I love that you are talking about how it impacts us while we are still alive. That can be a bigger push - “Who is going to take care of my kids if I am hospitalized?”. Especially right now, it is easy to think about mortality in a pandemic. We all just want to make sure that our kids are taken care of.


Sarah Hartline

Yes, and that can actually be an obstacle in getting the estate planning done. Those decisions are tough to make but having it done brings peace of mind. When I meet people and help them with these documents, they are relieved to have it done. Now they don’t have to worry about it. You know it is all set and you don’t have it weighing on you.


Amanda, Soutiens

Many times when we hear the word “estate” we think money, assets, real estate. But this is more than that.


Sarah Hartline

Definitely! It is more about making health care decisions and power of attorney. While this is important for your finances, it is just as important when you have limited assets and there are hospital bills that need to be paid. The alternative - if you don’t have healthcare proxies or power of attorney and a parent ends up in the hospital - is that you would have to go to the courts to get guardianship or conservatorship which is an expensive court process. Having these documents in place can save a lot of time and money later on.


Amanda, Soutiens

It sounds like doing this sooner rather than later is a good idea for most families. So why do so many families put it off?


Sarah Hartline

Estate planning often goes to the bottom of the list for new parents. You have so many things you are trying to do and are trying to get things taken off your plate rather than having one more thing added. Also, it can also be unpleasant. We often meet with young couples who can’t decide who should be the guardian and that causes them to kick it down the road.


Two things that I often say in response is: First, if you use an attorney, a lot of estate planning attorneys are making it a lot easier by meeting via Zoom, and using the new remote notarization bill, it can all be done remotely. If you are using an online program like LegalZoom, they are making the process easy and simple so the time commitment shouldn’t be too bad. Second, in terms of not wanting to think about it, or make the decisions, I always tell people, “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of making a plan.” If you are having trouble deciding, you especially don’t want a court making that decision. It's better for you to make an imperfect decision than none at all.


“Don’t let the perfect get in the way of making a plan.” If you are having trouble deciding, you especially don’t want a court making that decision. It's better for you to make an imperfect decision than none at all.

Amanda, Soutiens

And it can be updated, right?


Sarah Hartline

Right, of course. You can change it at any time. It’s all about putting something down.


Amanda, Soutiens

I know the firm that my family worked with reaches out every 3 years and asks about updates. What’s changed with your relationships, with your parents, with the guardians, and proxies? It encourages you to think about it fairly often.


One other thing that we did, and I encourage others to do, is a recording - in our case, audio - of what is important to us to pass on. Not just financial, but values, messages, and memories. It was a great opportunity to do some positive reflection as well.


Sarah Hartline

Yes, I find that people are either one or the other - they don’t want to think about things or the they want to think through all of those details that they want guardians to know, what’s important to you. In my family we are one of each. My husband loves all of that - which is funny since I’m the estate planner. He has letters to each of us - the kids, me.


Everyone had different preferences and when I meet with families I try understand that everyone has their own approaches.


Amanda, Soutiens

This goes along with our usual advice at Soutiens. “Take what works, leave what doesn’t”.


Many of the folks in our audience are working parents with assets that go through employers - 401Ks, life insurance, things like that. Are these things that need to be taken into account when doing estate planning?


Sarah Hartline

Absolutely. Estate planning goes beyond the document we’ve talked about. There is the will, the trust, the power of attorney, proxies of course. Part of the value that an attorney can bring is not only making sure that you have all these pieces but that they also fit together. This includes thinking about how the assets are titled - are they individual, joint, in the name of the trust. For life insurance and retirement benefits, which is the major asset for many young couples, making sure that the beneficiaries are updated and that they fit with the rest of the plan is part of it. If you work with an attorney, they should be helping you with that.


Amanda, Soutiens

You just said, “if you work with an attorney”. Some people use attorneys, some go LegalZoom or DIY. Can you talk about why one would choose one over the other?


Sarah Hartline

Sure. I was talking with my husband about the DIY route. If I wasn’t an estate planning attorney, I’m sure that we would have been that couple that says “We’re smart, we can figure this out.” But now that I am an estate planning attorney, I can see a lot of the ways that we might have gone off the path. There is value in working with an attorney because they can help you make sure that all the pieces fit together, get the documents right, including real estate, insurance.


Like every decision, this comes down to budget. Some families don’t have the budget right now and it is better to have something down than nothing. I would also say it depends on the complexity of your situation. If you have a simple situation, an online program might work for you. If it is more complex, say a second marriage, kids from different marriages, or have a taxable estate. In Massachusetts, the estate tax threshold is $1 million including real estate and an attorney can help make sure your tax planning fits with the rest of the plan. So, there are definitely red flags that can point you to an attorney but at the end of the day, having guardianship written down is better than nothing or putting it off because you can’t go the attorney route.


Amanda, Soutiens

In an ideal world, when would you recommend a couple go through the estate planning process?


Sarah Hartline

I have a lot of young families that come in when they are 7-8 months pregnant and I get nervous for them because my first was a month early and you just never know!


I do think that once you have kids, it is a lot more on your plate so doing the planning before kids is great. When you are expecting and you start to have an idea about the guardian, it’s a great time. Four to five months before the due date is perfect.


Amanda, Soutiens

So we’ll put it on the checklist: plan your leave with Souties, do your estate planning with Sarah Hartline, and decorate the nursery!


Thank you so much for being here with us today.


To get in touch with Sarah to learn more about estate planning, you can email her at sh@margolis.com or check out https://www.margolis.com/ for more information.


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