Preparing for an Estate Planning Meeting

Preparing to meet with an estate planning attorney for the first time is an opportunity to get organized and think about your wishes for the future. If you meet with your accountant every year to prepare tax returns, this may be a familiar process. It’s a chance to step away from day-to-day activities and focus on your life, as described in a recent article “Preparing for an Estate Planning Consultation: 10 Items to Consider Before Meeting Your Attorney” from The National Law Journal.

Minor Children Need Guardians and Conservators. In most states, families with minor children need a last will to designate one or more guardians to raise the children in the event both parents die. A successor should be named in case the first named guardian is unable or unwilling to serve. Discuss your decision with the people you are naming; don’t leave this as a surprise. Choosing these people is a hard decision. However, don’t let it be a reason to delay creating your estate plan. It’s better that you name a guardian, rather than let the court make that decision.

Agents, Trustees, and Power of Attorney. With a Durable Power of Attorney, your assets can be managed by a named agent, if you become incapacitated. The person who manages your estate after death is the executor. They are named in your last will. If you have trusts, the documents that create the trust also name the trustees. It is possible for one person to act as a fiduciary for all of these roles, although the tasks can be divided.

Living Will and Patient Advocate Designation. If you are incapacitated, a Patient Advocate can make medical decisions on your behalf, including following the instructions of your Living Will.

Personal Property. Any items of personal property, whether their value is sentimental or monetary, should be specified in the will. A list of items and who you want to receive what, may spare your heirs from squabbles over your personal effects, large or small. If you own a business or real estate, they also need to be addressed in your will.

Charitable Donations. If you are charitably minded, your will is one way to make bequests and build a lasting legacy. Charitable donations can also be made to gain tax benefits for heirs.

Beneficiary Distributions. The beneficiary designation is the unsung hero of the estate plan. By managing beneficiary designations while you are living—updating beneficiary designations, assigning beneficiary designations to all accounts possible—you take assets out of your probate estate and smooth the asset distribution process. However, there are some wrinkles to consider.

Minor children may not receive assets until they become of age—18 in most cases. Do you want your children (or nieces or grandchildren) to receive an inheritance, while they are still in their teens? Proper estate planning includes trusts created, so a responsible adult can manage the trust on their behalf. Your trust can also be structured so the money may only be used for college expenses, or when the children reach certain ages.

Surviving Pets. You can plan for your pet’s care, if you pass away or become incapacitated before they die. Most states permit the creation of a pet trust, an enforceable means of providing assets to be used for the care and well-being of your pet.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to provide you with a list of the documents she will need to get started on your estate plan, but these are the major issues that you will be discussing at your first meeting.

Reference: The National Law Journal (Feb. 23, 2021) “Preparing for an Estate Planning Consultation: 10 Items to Consider Before Meeting Your Attorney”

Why Everyone Needs an Estate Plan

Many people think you have to be a millionaire to need an estate plan and investing in an estate plan is too costly for an average American. Not true! People of modest means actually need an estate plan more than the wealthy to protect what they have. A recent article from TAPinto.net explains the basics in “Estate Planning–Getting Your Affairs in Order Does Not Need to be Complicated or Expensive.”

Everyone needs an estate plan consisting of the following documents: a Last Will and Testament, a General Durable Power of Attorney and an Advance Medical Directive or Living Will.

Unless your estate is valued at more than $11.58 million, you may not be as concerned about federal estate taxes right now, but this may change in the near future. Some states, like New Jersey, don’t have any state estate tax at all. There are states, like Pennsylvania, which have an “inheritance” tax determined based on the relationship the person has with the decedent. However, taxes aren’t the only reason to have an estate plan.

If you have young children, your will is the legal document used to tell your executor and the court who you want to care for your minor children by naming their guardian. The will is also used to explain how your minor children’s inheritance should be managed by naming trustees.

Why do you need a General Power of Attorney? This is the document that you need to name a person to be in charge of your affairs, if you become incapacitated and can’t make or communicate decisions. Without a POA in place, no one, not even your spouse, has the legal authority to manage your financial and legal affairs. Your family would have to go to court and file a guardianship action, which can be expensive, take time to complete and create unnecessary stress for the family.

An Advance Medical Directive, also known as a Living Will, is used to let a person of your choice make medical decisions, if you are unable to do so. This is a very important document to have, especially if you have strong feelings about being kept alive by artificial means. The Advance Medical Directive gives you an opportunity to express your wishes for end of life care, as well as giving another person the legal right to make medical decisions on your behalf. Without it, a guardianship may need to be established, wasting critical time if an emergency situation occurs.

Most people of modest means need only these three documents, but they can make a big difference to protect the family. If the family includes disabled children or individuals, owns a business or real estate, there are other documents needed to address these more complex situations. However, simple or complex, your estate and your family deserve the protection of an estate plan.

Reference: TAPinto.net (Sep. 23, 2020) “Estate Planning–Getting Your Affairs in Order Does Not Need to be Complicated or Expensive”

Preparing Children for Inheritances in the Future

Almost three quarters of the wealthiest people in the world—those whose net worth is higher than $30 million—are self-made, according to a Wealth-X report. Look closer into the world’s wealthiest, and only about a quarter have a combination of inherited and self-made money, while only 8.5% inherited their wealth.

Transferring wealth and having it last more than two generations is very difficult, says an article that offers suggestions: “4 Ways to Prepare Children Now to Oversee their Inheritance Later” from Forbes. A decades-long study of 2,500 families found that 70% of family fortunes disappear by just the second generation. By the third generation, that number leaps to 90%.

Why is wealth retention so difficult? One of the key reasons is a lack of preparation. Parents may devote time and resources to ensure that their estate is organized, but they must also prepare their children to oversee and sustain inherited wealth and give them the skills, values and knowledge needed.

How can parents make sure their family wealth endures? Here are a few steps:

Have an estate plan created. This lets you maximize the inheritance left to heirs, by minimizing taxes and asset distribution costs. When the children are minors, establish guardians in case both parents die early and make a plan to distribute assets over their lifetimes, so they don’t receive a large inheritance all at once.

Give your children a financial education. Children need to be taught how to save, what compound interest can do, how investments work and how money is earned. Let them handle money early and experience the consequences of poor decision making. Better to learn at a young age with small amounts of money, than when they are adults and the stakes are higher.

Let them know what the family’s net worth is and apprise them of any changes. These discussions should be age-appropriate, but financial openness and honesty that starts young eliminates confusion and mixed messages. Give them a small stake in the planning, by allowing them to choose a charity and make a donation to it. Delegating even a small portion of control and letting the child see how it feels to be a steward of wealth is an important lesson.

Encourage children to build their own wealth. Many wealthy parents worry that knowing there is an inheritance in their future will prevent their children from having any ambitions. Grant a limited amount of control over portions of their inheritance at certain ages and teach them about options: investing, saving, donating or spending.

A financial education that starts early and provides time for lessons to be learned, will make children at any economic level better prepared for good decision making throughout their lives.

Reference: Forbes (July 1, 2020) “4 Ways to Prepare Children Now to Oversee their Inheritance Later”