Estate Plan. When you hear those words, you usually think of a 90-year-old with an enormous estate. However, everyone needs an estate plan that’s appropriately merged with their tax, insurance, investment, and retirement plan. Part of your estate plan might be intricate and complex. Most of it should be very simple, but impactful. In this post, I’ll tell you how to bring clarity to your estate plan. Doing this will make things far easier on your family and other beneficiaries if something happens to you.
My perspective on estate planning is unique as I’ve seen it from just about every angle. Throughout my career, I’ve met with hundreds of families approaching retirement. I’ve helped families in the aftermath of losing a loved one. Plus, I’m a dad of three really young kids. Here are a few things that I’ve noticed along the way.
Most families do not have a formal estate plan. If anything, maybe they have a will from 20 years ago. For the longest time, this shocked me. How can a family work 40 years, save more than a million dollars, and not have a detailed plan of what they want to do with their assets? I really shouldn’t have been shocked, though. As I’ll discuss later, I didn’t even complete my personal estate plan until after I was diagnosed with cancer.
Most families do not keep their beneficiaries up-to-date. A beneficiary is a big deal in Texas. Who you list on the beneficiary line in your 401k or any other investment account is going to get that account when you pass. Make sure you know who you have listed as beneficiaries.
The organizational aspect of estate planning creates absolute havoc for your heirs. What is the organizational side of estate planning? Let me explain. The technical or legal side of estate plan helps establish the proper legal documents (think POA, health directives, trusts, wills, etc.). This is obviously critical. But the organizational piece is just as important. I’ve seen several cases where a family had the right trust or will in place. However, it was still a full-time job for a few months for their family to sort everything out. How do you avoid this? Do not head into retirement with eight different accounts at six different institutions. Every investment firm or bank you work with will have a different process with different requirements and forms. There’s a myth that’s been largely squashed, but it still exists. The myth is that more accounts mean more diversification. As you can imagine, this is not the case. If you hold a US large-cap fund at five different investment firms, you’re not diversified. But your estate is very unorganized should something happen to you.
What does my estate plan look like?
Despite being a CFP® professional, I didn’t complete our estate plan until I was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago. It’s easy to put off, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Now that ours is done, I no longer worry about it-it feels great. In the following points, I’ll list the basic elements of my estate plan and why I have them. Note: It’s certainly possible to arrive at a similar destination with a different path (i.e., using a will instead of a trust). An estate planning attorney along with your financial planner can help determine the best route for your situation.
Revocable Living Trust-this trust allows Lauren (my better half) and me to be in charge while living. If something happens to one of us, the surviving spouse is still in charge. We have an executor picked out that will oversee the trust should something happen to both of us. This role should go to a competent, trustworthy person in your life. The trust can hold just about every asset we have (including the payout from our term life insurance policies). The trust allows us to avoid probate and gives security measures for our minor children. Our three kids are 5, 3, and 1. Although we’re pretty excited about how sharp they are, we don’t want them handling money anytime soon. So, they do not have access to the trust until they are in their 30’s. Can you accomplish most of your estate plan with a will? Sure. For the reasons laid out in the last few sentences, I chose a living trust.
Health Care Directives-this allows Lauren and I to make legal decisions regarding each other’s health care. Do not resuscitate instructions are included as well.
Power of Attorney-Should Lauren and I ever become incapacitated, the other spouse has POA established. One quick note for any of you with college-bound children. These documents must be updated before your child goes off to college. When they become a legal adult, you do not automatically have POA or Health Care proxy privileges just because you’re their parent.
Joint WROS instead of Joint TIC-WROS stands for “with rights of survivorship.” Any bank account or taxable investment account is structured as a joint WROS account. Should something happen to either of us, the surviving spouse still owns that account. Had we created it as a joint TIC (tenants in common) account, this would not be the case. TIC legally means that each person owns 50%. If there is no beneficiaries listed, the other 50% technically could go through probate. To avoid the hassle and headache, we structured ours as a joint WROS account.
When I work with a family wanting financial advice, I have two goals. The first is that we outline and implement the proper legal measures to accomplish their estate planning needs. In this step, I’ll include an estate planning attorney. Specifically, the needs we address are the following:
How they want their assets to transfer
Who they want their assets to transfer to (beneficiaries)
Who they want to oversee the transfer of assets
Who they want to raise minor children (for younger families)
Who they want to be in charge should they become incapacitated
The second goal is to ensure that we set that family up for as painless of a transfer as possible. Here’s what we address in this step:
Ensure proper titling of joint accounts
Ensure beneficiaries on every account are up to date
Ensure trusts are properly funded if necessary
Consolidate accounts when needed (i.e., do not have eight different accounts at six different firms)
Ensure tax efficiency-organize and properly locate investments in accounts that set up your beneficiaries to get most of your wealth instead of the IRS.
Your estate plan is a foundational part of your financial plan. I like to organize financial planning around five areas-estate planning, insurance or risk management, retirement planning, investments, and tax planning. The last three areas are fun. It’s exciting to plan for the coming decades. But before we can do that, we have to protect your family with the first two areas.
Contact us so we can get started on your estate plan!