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Estate Planning: An Interview with Jeremy Howe of The Law Offices of Jeremy W. Howe, LTD

By Jeremy Howe

Tell us a little bit about your company and its foundation.

I visited Newport in 1972 to visit a Peace Corps friend who had lived in Kandahar, Afghanistan down the road from my compound. I fell in love with Rhode Island and never left after that first day. I started my own law practice in 1975 and for nearly 40 years I have sought to make legal services available to the general public. During that period of time I have had numerous partners and legal associations but in 1999 I decided to return to practicing law in my own manner and style. Since then I have hired three full-time associates and currently have four part-time staff members which include two part-time attorneys. I am a mediator also and mediate with a therapist in a co-mediation model. We mediate divorce, post-divorce and other family cases including elder-law and all other disputes between spouses, partners, siblings or intergenerational family members.

What are some of the services your company provides?

We work in specific areas of the law. We are Divorce and Family lawyers; Wills, Estates, Trust & Probate lawyers with emphasis in Medicaid planning, Special Needs Trusts & "Elder-law". So we work with all families in all of these areas. We also consult, lecture, and practice in the area of Military Divorce Law and we assist lawyers in drafting post-divorce documents called "QDROs" to divide pension assets for divorced husbands and wives.

Can you briefly state for our readers a generalized definition of estate planning?

Briefly stated, estate planning encompasses the process by which people plan to pass what they have accumulated during their lifetime: their personal belongings, their home, their savings, or whatever property they possess, to their spouse, children, grandchildren or other loved ones. Sometimes for charitably-inclined clients, it involves giving, either during lifetime or upon death. In doing so, we help them eliminate the obstacles, pitfalls, and potential family problems, whatever they might be.

At what age should you start planning your estate details?

No age is too soon to begin the planning process. Obviously the older one gets, and the more property one accumulates, the more important it is to see an estate planning or elder law attorney to discuss the various issues involved. But some of the most urgent estate planning we see involves young people with little or no money or property. We often see clients for the first time when they begin having children. Divorcing couples should also change their plan post-divorce.Having no estate plan in place can be a costly mistake if an unforeseen accident or health issue occurs, so we encourage people of all ages and all walks of life to explore their own planning options.

How is estate planning different from the creation of a will?

A will is the most common instrument one considers when they think of estate planning but it's actually just one piece among a whole variety of tools in the estate plan tool-box. For some people, trusts become a better form of document to distribute property. A carefully planned estate with a trust can avoid probate so that the will would be recorded but it will not "speak" or be used. Estate planning can also consider long term care or estate taxes and income tax issues which might not be part of a person's will, per se. Other parts of the estate plan other than the will include powers of attorney, medical directives, and living wills. People sometimes assume that these are less important additions to the estate plan but they often can be the most important pieces in one's estate plan. We've written a lot on our website and in our monthly newsletter about the horror stories that accompany not having these basic documents in place.

Are there different types of estate planning lawyers?

There are different types of estate planning attorneys. Some concentrate their practice in elder law and Medicaid issues, some in high-end tax planning, and some in more generalized basic planning with a probate court concentration. We have a holistic approach. There is little that we don't do and little that we haven't seen in all of these areas and so we think of ourselves as a comprehensive estate planning office for any member of the general public.

How do estate planning laws vary from state to state?

Estate planning laws vary from state to state, and it's important for clients who have either lived previously in other states, own property in other states or who might have family members in other states to understand this.

For example, each state has its own estate tax threshold. For instance, in Connecticut a person may pass away with up to $2 million without having to fear estate tax consequences. In Rhode Island, that cap is much lower, just a hair over $920,000 for 2014. In Florida there is no state estate tax.

Also, when considering the cost of long term care from state to state, costs vary, as do Medicaid rules. Knowing how to navigate the difficult regulations from state to state can save a client tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

These are just a few of the many interstate issues that we assess with our clients.

What is the best way for people to reach you and or your company?

Our firm is very pro-active in reaching out to the public. We can be reached easily on the internet by or through our interactive website. We post educational articles on our monthly elder law e-newsletter which is sent out to about 500 recipients, our social media outlets and via other writings that we regularly publish in local newspapers and journals.

Generally we will also schedule free initial consultations in our Newport and North Kingstown offices but we also offer house calls anywhere in Rhode Island or Massachusetts after a telephone contact. We offer a toll-free number which is 1-888-358-8388. Our law practice involves numerous older persons and persons with special needs and challenges. Our attorneys live in Massachusetts and in three different parts of Rhode Island and we enjoy visiting clients in their own homes or elsewhere at their convenience. "Have briefcase, Will travel" to recall a television show from a different era.

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