I read an interesting article the other day, that as a financial advisor, got me thinking. For many people, estate planning falls into the “I know I should do it, but somehow I never get around to it” category. And understandably – estate planning asks us to acknowledge our own eventual demise and makes us wrestle with what can sometimes be challenging decisions about what we want our legacies to be…ugh! Clearly, this can be an uncomfortable process. If you fall into this category, you are in good company as an estimated 70% of individuals have not developed an estate plan.
That said, most financial advisors (ourselves included) believe estate planning is valued component of comprehensive financial plans and wealth management. Thoughtful estate planning helps individuals and families conserve their wealth and eases the transition of passing assets to loved ones, charities, and other places individuals may want their hard-earned assets to go. Even if you already have an estate plan, it is good to occasionally revisit documents as life situations as well as federal- and state-level estate tax laws and thresholds can change. It is also important to remember, while you are alive you can revoke, modify, and/or update your estate plan if you so choose.
A lot of people may believe estate planning only applies to the top 0.2 percenters; i.e., those who are wealthy enough to be affected by gift, estate, inheritance, and generation-skipping transfer taxes. However, most people can benefit from some degree of estate planning, especially given estate tax rules vary from state to state.
Estate plans can be as simple or as complex as a situation merits, but in general tax and non-tax goals for everyone include:
- Optimizing income tax basis treatment at time of death
- Avoiding increases in real estate holdings’ property tax value at time of death
- Designating decision-makers who can make financial decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacitation or after your death
- Identify the who, what, and way you want your assets distributed
- Avoiding guardianship and probate of your estate
- Retaining financial benefits while still alive
- Retaining control of property after death
- Protecting your assets
- A gift to the future – creating a more simple and convenient process for survivors, when they may be grieving
There are a number of planning techniques that can be used when developing an estate plan that is customized to individual situations, needs, and goals. For instance, more advanced estate planning tools, such as qualified personal residence trusts (QPRTs), irrevocable life insurance trusts (ILITs), charitable remainder trusts (CRUT/CRAT) are frequently used with more complex estates. However, there are several basic estate planning documents that are typically suitable for all individuals, whether married or single (Table 1).
|Table 1. Estate Planning Documents Everyone Should Consider|
|Revocable living trust
|Suitable for everyone who owns property/assets||Provides ownership/management of asset while alive; avoids guardianship while alive in the event of incapacitation; helps avoid probate after death; and used to determine how assets will be distributed after death|
|Suitable for everyone who owns property and/or has children < 18 years or dependents||Special type of last will and testament that is used as part of trust-based estate plans. Establishes domicile; names decision-makers and guardians for minor or dependent children; transfers any property not held in the living trust to the living trust thru the probate process after death|
|Durable power of attorney for finances||Everyone ≥18 years old||Names individual(s) who will manage your financial affairs if you become incapacitated|
|Durable medical power of attorney (healthcare proxy)||Everyone ≥18 years old||Names individual(s) who will make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated with a terminal illness and/or are in comatose/permanent vegetative state|
|Living will (advance directive)||Everyone ≥18 years old||Communicates your healthcare wishes about end-of-life medical care to your healthcare providers in the event you become incapacitated with a terminal illness and/or are in comatose/permanent vegetative state|
|Everyone ≥18 years old||Identifies individuals that your healthcare provider may share your healthcare information with|
Estate planning attorneys (which we are not) are experts at helping clients navigate which estate planning tools are best for them and drafting the documents. At Sapling Wealth Management, we specialize in individual financial advice and wealth management as well as being an investment adviser for small business 401(k) plans. Part of what we do is help our clients navigate to strategic vendors that can help them with their specific needs. If you want to learn more about how estate planning can fit into your wealth management strategy, feel free to give us a call.