Estate planning is a commonly overlooked part of one’s financial plan. While your balance sheet and cash flow are key to ensuring financial stability and peace of mind now, it is also necessary to ensure that those assets are properly distributed and managed upon your death or incapacity.
Much like you compiled your financial documents (as discussed in the earlier posts of this series), you will want to gather all your basic estate documents and ensure those are in place as well. Without these specific documents – last will and testament, revocable trust, financial power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, and living will – you lose the ability to specify who receives your assets when you pass, who is the guardian of your children, who makes your healthcare decisions, amongst other scenarios.
You will need to work with an attorney to put these important documents together:
- Last Will and Testament: Identifies the executor of your estate; determines where assets go after death; names guardians for your children (if under age 18)
- Revocable Trust: Allows you to further direct/control how assets set aside for beneficiaries are managed after death
- Financial Power of Attorney: Grants someone else the ability to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf
- Healthcare Power of Attorney: Grants someone else the ability to make healthcare decisions if you are unable to do so
- Living Will: States your intentions about life sustaining treatments should you become incapacitated
Once you have executed these documents, you will “sleep better” knowing you have made decisions about how your affairs will be handled in the future when you are no longer able to do so (due to death or incapacity).
MAINTENANCE IS ESSENTIAL
You should revisit these documents every five years or after significant life events (i.e. death, marriage, birth). A routine maintenance process can aid in keeping your plan and documents consistent with your current wishes, as circumstances can change
More specifically, on wills and similar documents you should review listings of executors, guardians, power of attorneys, and listed backups. On your Trusts, you should review specific provisions such as age to distribute assets and whether to keep the money in the Trust or not. Trusts have a lot of moving parts that can be altered – our recent ClearPoint article, Change May Be Coming to Your Trust, by David Miller, CFP ®, CPA, Managing Director, discusses these changes is greater detail.
Also, be sure to periodically review your designated beneficiaries on retirement plans, life insurance plans, and any other important accounts.
INTEGRATING FINANCES WITH ESTATE PLANNING
For high net worth (“HNW”) families, estate planning can become a broader task and is more integrated with their overall financial situation. These families are often concerned with protecting their assets for both the short-term and long-term, which requires more detailed financial planning and strategy to coincide with the documents discussed above.
For our clients, the most common estate planning item on meeting agendas is planning to reduce exposure to gift and estate tax. Currently, individuals can pass along $11.58 million to their heirs without paying any gift or estate tax. However, amounts more than $11.58 million are taxed at a rate of 40%.
Philanthropic gifts and lifetime transfers to beneficiaries are useful strategies to reduce exposure to these high taxes. Conversely, lifetime transfers are also irrevocable and require careful consideration of an individual or family’s total financial plan.
HNW families implement myriad strategies to ensure their estate and financial assets align with their goals. Most shift assets into a Trust to protect them from creditors (including divorce) and focus on asset titling in a way to streamline transfers upon death to avoid probate (a slow, costly, and public process). HNW families facing estate tax may utilize GRATs, SLATs, and other Trust structures to gift assets (and their future appreciation) to the next generation at a low cost. Other HNW families are most focused on educating the next generation about financial matters to ensure they understand the responsibilities of managing wealth.
For HNW families with younger children, there are additional strategies and considerations for financial and estate plan review that could be considered, including annual exclusion gifts, liability insurance, and making direct tuition payments. For families with a more complex picture and who require additional planning Clearstead hosted a Roundtable in September 2019 to foster discussion about strategies to transfer wealth to the next generation.
WORKING WITH AN ADVISOR
Ultimately, the goal of having a basic estate plan in place is to maintain control over your assets and rest assured that the transfer of assets and wealth will follow that plan. It is important that you have all your basic documents in place, you review them periodically, and you evaluate the complexity of your situation to determine what type of professional advice may be valuable.
Working with a comprehensive wealth advisor (like Clearstead) who knows all aspects of your financial picture and understands your goals is critical to making a well-informed decision on financial planning strategies that correspond with your estate. While Clearstead does not draft estate and Trust documents, we work very closely with our clients and their estate planning attorney to put these vehicles into place.
In the final post of this series, we will discuss insurance in greater detail as the final piece in organizing your financial picture.
Information provided is general in nature, is provided for informational purposes, and should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice. These materials do not constitute an offer or recommendation to buy or sell securities. The information provided is from public sources and data available at the time the information was written. Any information provided is subject to change at any time. Clearstead disclaims any liability for any direct or incidental loss incurred by applying any of the information provided. You should consult with a professional before making any investment, tax or legal decisions.
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