Estate Planning

Estate Planning

Based in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, the estate planning attorneys at Sullivan & Sullivan, P.C. are here to help you take control of your future through comprehensive estate planning.

Founded in 1955, the law firm of Sullivan & Sullivan concentrates on estate planning, estate administration, business succession planning. We offer competent, professional advice, and create practical solutions to complex estate planning problems. Our attorneys pride themselves on simplifying complicated legal concepts, and explaining them in a way our clients can easily understand. We take a proactive approach to estate planning, rather than reacting to a problem after it arises.

What Is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is the process that allows you to identify who will receive your property, what they will receive, and when they will receive it. A properly executed estate plan gives you control over when and how your property is transferred to the people and organizations you care about most and ensures that your wishes are carried out correctly, as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

An estate plan also gives you control over your future if you become incapacitated or need assistance. Your estate plan can specify the type of medical care you do, or do not wish to receive, where you will live, and whether or not you want medical providers to take extraordinary measures to save you if your life is coming to an end.

What Should Be Included in Your Estate Plan

An estate plan ensures that you and your family are protected. A typical estate plan may include:

  • A Last Will and Testament (often referred to as simply a “Will”) that identifies your property and specifies how it will be transferred at the time of your death, and allows you to name a guardian to care for your minor children.
  • Trusts, such as a special needs trust, a revocable trust, or an irrevocable trust for minor children.
  • Healthcare Powers of Attorney where you appoint a person of your choice to make medical decisions on your behalf.
  • Financial Durable Powers of Attorney that allow you to choose someone to handle your business, financial, and legal affairs if you are unable to do so.
  • Living Wills, Advance Directives, and HIPAA Waivers that tell your loved ones the type of medical care you wish to receive and allows your representative to talk to your healthcare and insurance providers .
  • Business Succession Planning that can specify who will take over your business when you pass away, retire, or are incapacitated.

How the Estate Planning Process Works

Estate planning may seem difficult, but at Sullivan & Sullivan, we break the process down so it is not overwhelming.

Initial Meeting

During your initial meeting, we learn about you and your unique situation, work to understand your estate planning goals, and confirm that we can be of assistance.

Planning Meeting

In the planning meeting, we ask follow-up questions to better understand who you are and what you want your estate plan to accomplish. We also take time to explain estate planning concepts, identify estate planning options and the pros and cons of each, and address the cost of your estate plan.

Drafting and Reviewing

Once we understand your goals, we prepare your customized estate planning documents. You will, of course, have an opportunity to review the documents to ensure that they properly express your wishes, and make changes as necessary. Once your estate planning documents are approved, we meet to sign the estate planning documents.

Implementing the Plan

The last step is implementing your estate plan. For smaller estates, this may be as simple as signing your estate planning documents. For more complex estates, our attorneys will assist you in re-titling your assets to align your checking, savings, and retirement accounts with the documents. We will also assist you in transferring assets into your trust and updating beneficiary arrangements, as necessary.

Basic Estate Planning

A basic estate plan should include a Last Will and Testament, a Financial Durable Power of Attorney, a Healthcare Power of Attorney, and a Living Will. These documents cover the basics of estate planning, including how you want your assets to be passed down, identifying an Executor who will oversee the distribution of your assets, naming a guardian to care for any minor children, and giving someone the power to make financial and healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to.

Complex Estate Planning

For clients with more sophisticated estate planning needs, our attorneys can create estate plans that employ specialized estate planning options to minimize exposure to estate taxes, provide a plan to care for children with special circumstances, take advantage of charitable giving strategies, assist with Medicaid eligibility requirements, and address more complicated situations such as a second marriage or a blended family.

Sullivan & Sullivan: Estate Planning to Protect What Matters Most

At Sullivan & Sullivan, our attorneys go the extra mile to coordinate your estate plan. This can include advising you on how your estate plan is funded, updating beneficiary forms updated, and titling property to reflect your wishes and ensure that your estate plan is properly carried out.

In addition to estate planning, we also offer estate administration services, representing your family throughout the probate process and with the administration of a trust, the preparation of estate tax returns, and other administrative requirements that come with settling an estate.

We invite you to meet the legal team at Sullivan & Sullivan and learn what to expect when you work with us. Read testimonials from other people we have helped, get answers to Frequently Asked Questions, and contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your estate planning needs and how we can help.

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Frequently Asked Questions

When should I sign a Will?

Many people put off talking to an estate planning lawyer until they are in their later years, but even young people, and certainly young families, can benefit from the tools used in estate planning.

When is it critical to review your estate plan, and why?

Just like other important life tasks, your estate plan deserves your time and attention. It's important that you work with us to review your estate plan at least every few years. A meeting within a fixed period isn't the only time you need to consider your estate plan. The occurrence of special life events may mean it is time to pick up the phone and call us.

If you experience any of these significant life events, get in touch with us, and we'll make sure you are up to date.


Have you recently gotten married? Congratulations! Marriage means new ways of sharing and managing finances and assets. It also means any existing will is revoked by marriage under Rhode Island law. As a result, this is an important time to revisit your estate plan. With this life change, you'll need to contact us to make any changes to your beneficiary designations, update your will/trust, and update your powers of attorney. This is especially important if this is a second marriage and/or there are children from a previous relationship involved. Proper estate planning is the only way to ensure that you are protecting your loved ones the way you want.

New Job

A new job presents an exciting new set of challenges and opportunities to explore. It also brings very real financial changes. You may be receiving new benefits that require new beneficiary designations on your estate plan. When you are filling out these new forms, it is important that the beneficiaries are named appropriately so your estate plan will work as designed. In addition, you'll need to make sure your estate plan reflects the change to your financial status, whether that's a pay increase or a pay cut.

Loss of a Job

Similarly, leaving employment brings big changes to your financial situation and to your estate plan. It's important to update your plan to reflect the loss of employer-provided benefits such as life insurance, as well as the change in financial status.


Retirement brings lifestyle changes, more time for loved ones, and important financial developments. We can help you change your plan to reflect that you've stopped earning income and have entered the phase where you will be beginning to use your retirement account. Also, with this new-found freedom, you may find yourself traveling more, making documents such as a Financial Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney more crucial.


If you have moved across state lines, you'll need to consult with a local estate planning attorney to make sure that the provisions in your estate planning document are still applicable in your new state. A new home is a new asset, and it is important that this asset is titled appropriately to carry out your overall estate plan.


Divorce is, of course, a difficult time. But it is critical to look out for your financial health and future if it occurs. You should make any needed updates to the beneficiaries on your estate plan and ensure your beneficiary designations on any life insurance or retirement accounts are changed so that your ex-spouse does not end up with your assets upon your passing.


There is so much to take care of after the loss of a loved one. Take some time, but don't forget that your estate plan will need to be updated to reflect the change that has taken place. You may need to remove the deceased loved one as a beneficiary from any will, trust, life insurance policy, or retirement account and determine what will now happen to that share. It is also important to verify that your deceased loved one was not appointed as a fiduciary, or if so, to make the necessary adjustments to your documents.

Received Inheritance

The death of a loved one not only brings a loss but may result in an inheritance. An inheritance can mean property, money, real estate, and more. An increase in assets may necessitate a change in your estate planning strategy. Also, depending on the form of the inheritance you've received, there may be additional asset management or asset protection concerns that your estate planner will need to address with you.

Birth or Adoption

Welcoming a new child to the family is an unforgettable time. You may feel inspired to look toward the future, and you should. This is a great time to plan to provide for your new family member's future. Due to the new arrival's young age, it is important to consider how you would like to provide for the child and who is going to be in charge of handling the assets while he or she is a minor.

Sullivan & Sullivan Would Be Honored to Help

Whatever life brings you, the attorneys at Sullivan & Sullivan are here to help you weather the storms and celebrate the milestones. We’d be honored to help you ensure your estate plan is up to date to reflect these life changes. Give us a call today!

When a person dies is it necessary to deal with the probate court in Rhode Island?

The Rhode Island Probate Court has jurisdiction over assets of a decedent if those assets are in the decedent’s name alone, there are no surviving joint owners, and there are no beneficiary designations that control the disposition of the assets. If an asset such as a bank account is owned as joint tenants with the right of survivorship, the account will pass to the surviving joint owner without Probate Court involvement. Similarly, tax-deferred assets such as an IRA or 401(k) will pass to the surviving designated beneficiary. Investment accounts can also name a “Transfer on Death” or “Payable on Death” beneficiary.

When there is no surviving joint owner or a beneficiary designation, then the Probate Court will determine the disposition of the decedent’s assets. If a decedent has a valid Will, the assets will be distributed in accordance with the terms of the Will. If a decedent had no Will, the laws of intestacy govern the disposition of the assets. In other words, the State of Rhode Island will supply the decedent with a Will by default.

In Rhode Island, the probate court is a municipal court, meaning that each of the 39 cities and towns has their own court. To initiate the probate process, a petition must be filed in the city or town where the decedent resided. The petition names the decedent and the heirs of the decedent. If the decedent died with a Will, the beneficiaries under the Will are also included in the petition. All those individuals and organizations named in the petition must receive notice in advance describing the hearing date when the probate court will review the petition.

The petition requests that the probate court appoint either the executor named under the Will or an administrator for an intestate estate (decedent died without a Will). A common misconception is that the executor listed in the Will can act because the Will names them. That is not the case. The Will essentially nominates the executor, but it is up to the probate court to determine whether the will is valid and appoint the executor.

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