On March 21 at 1 pm, Guare and Sons Funeral Home will host a special workshop “Wills, Estates, Probate: How to be legally prepared for the end of life” at their location at 30 School Street in Montpelier. The workshop, led by local attorney Caroline Earle, hopes to educate community members on how to create a legally-sound estate plan. The event is free and open to the public.
“Dying intestate (without a will) creates confusion among the people that are nearest and dearest to you,” Earle said. “It creates uncertainty with what’s going to happen with particular assets, and how certain assets can be accessed for purposes of dealing with funeral costs, for example.”
Guare and Sons Funeral Director Michelle Acciavatti said the funeral home began hosting workshops as a way to provide a service to the community while working to modernize the image of the funeral home.
“People usually only come to funerals at a very sad time and they try hard not to think about what it is we do,” Acciavatti said. “So, it got me thinking, how do we go about changing people’s relationships to the funeral home? And it seemed obvious to me that maybe we should have people engage with us for reasons other than death.”
Inspired by the funeral home’s “beautiful space,” Acciavatti decided to host events where professionals could be invited to “speak and provide information to the community on things that are related to what we do.”
Nobody likes to think about dying, Earle said, but failure to prepare a will can cause additional stress and uncertainty for loved ones at an already challenging time.
“A client may come to me and say, ‘I want to draw up a will and I’ll name my spouse as my executor, and if my spouse can’t do it, I’ll name one of my kids,’” Earle said. “And I’ll say, ‘let’s talk about that person. Is he or she organized? Is it someone who would be emotionally up to the challenge of dealing with your probate despite the loss they had suffered?’”
Often such discussions result in clients rethinking their end of life arrangements, Earle said.
“At the heart of estate planning is a conversation, a discussion,” Earle explained. “The advice and experience that an attorney brings can help you to contemplate issues and reflect on the decisions you’re making.”
Dying without a will can also cause financial disruption for disabled children who receive social security or other government benefits, Earle said.
“If a parent has a disabled adult child who receives benefits through the government, when the parent dies the child potentially gains assets that can put their social security disability benefits at risk,” Earle explained.
Other considerations when preparing an estate plan include navigating Vermont tax laws and planning for age-related conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.
“Deciding in advance for things that one day you may be no longer able to decide is very empowering,” Earle said. “You’re giving your relatives and beneficiaries a gift so they won’t have to feel confused or guilt-ridden wondering if they made the right decisions on your behalf.”
“We want people to come to us empowered with information so they can make informed choices,” Acciavatti said. “That makes it easier for us to provide them with what they need, so they can focus on celebrating the life of their loved one.”