Let’s Talk About Estate Planning
For some, one of the least enjoyable topics to discuss is what to do with your earthly things when you’re gone. This can include your personal belongings, money, investments, property, and don’t forget the digital assets nowadays. It’s easy to resort to avoiding the conversation and leaning into the idea of “I’ll just let my kids figure it out”, or “I won’t be here to have to worry about it” which protects you from having an introspective conversation about what you feel is the best way to distribute what you have once you’re gone
Sometimes the situation is quite straightforward, and you can complete a Last Will and Testament leaving everything to your spouse, then equally among your beneficiaries. While this can be the case, by just asking a few clarifying questions, there is generally more to than what a surface conversation would suggest.
For example: Let’s say you’re 55 years old, married, and have 2 children, ages 25 and 28. The eldest child is married and has 1 young child of their own. The youngest child is currently single with no children. Everyone in the family is financially independent and would be good stewards of any financial resources received.
On the face of this scenario, you may set up your Will to leave everything to your spouse, then equally to the kids and call it a day. But, how would your wishes potentially change by answering these questions:
If one of your children were to pre-decease you, where would you want their share to go?
o If your eldest child pre-deceases you, do you want their share to go to their spouse, or to your grandchild?
o If your youngest child pre-deceases you, and still doesn’t have any heirs, does their share go to their estate or to your eldest child?
o If anything goes to your grandchild, at what age would you like them to be able to access the funds? (This is where the $1MM goes directly to an 18 year old scenario could come into play)
o Who should be entrusted with taking care of any funds that need to be held for a minor?
This scenario is a simplified version of many conversations that we’ve had over the years, so you can imagine how things go when you toss in circumstances such as special needs family members, family farms/land, business succession, heirs that you don’t feel it would be of benefit for them to receive a large sum of money, and many more.
Taking care of your estate planning documents is an important part of your overall life planning. Neglecting to complete at least a simple Will is to likely cause confusion, frustration, and higher costs to the person who is ultimately going to be the executor entrusted with the distribution of the estate. Be wary of creating your own documents or using a DIY online option.
When you’re trying to determine which attorney is going to be a good fit to help you with this endeavor, do your research. Ask your peers who they’ve used or speak to your financial planner to ensure the right information and questions are brought up during the discussion. Find an attorney who focuses on estate planning as opposed to it being a service that they happen to offerIdeally your attorney will have a process in place for you to complete a questionnaire of some sort to help you organize what you need to be thinking about, and spark additional questions. Then, schedule an initial consultation to discuss what you’d like to accomplish and how to make it as simple as it should be. Then be sure to work with your bank, financial planner, and other attorneys to ensure your beneficiaries and account registrations (naming of accounts) are structured correctly.
While this article is aimed at a high-level view of how to engage in the estate planning process, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to discuss how this fits in your overall financial plan, or if would like a copy of our Estate Planning Questionnaire (page 1 shown above). Estate planning is not generally a conversation that is had once and is completed for good. As your life changes and evolves, be sure to review your documents to ensure they still adhere to your wishes and adjust as needed. The money you spend today on properly constructing your estate documents is likely saving frustration and money down the road. As one my favorite sayings goes, “Do what is meaningful, not what is expedient”.
This material has been provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax or legal advice. Estate planning may require legal assistance, which neither LPL Financial, nor its registered representatives, provide. Always consult a qualified tax and/or legal advisor for information as to how taxes may affect your particular situation.