By Abbey L. Henderson, CFP®, RLP®, CPCC®, Wealth Advisor –
Have you prepared for your estate to be passed on?
You may be thinking, “Of course, I have a will prepared!” However, there’s more to estate planning than a will – and the more planning you do now, the easier it will be for your loved ones to benefit from your legacy.
I love this quote by Warren Buffet, “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” Let’s look at how you can plant a healthy tree for the future with some savvy estate planning!
But, before we get started, the most important thing to remember is to get ready and plan now – before it is urgent.
You don’t want to be in a hospital room stressing about how you “could’ve” and “should’ve” made life easier for your family. Do it now, knowing the work you put in (because it is work) will make life easier for your family in the future.
Step 1: Prepare Your Estate Planning Documents and Implement Them
Keep your documents current
Ensure, at a minimum, that these documents are up-to-date:
- Health Care Proxy
- Power of Attorney
Stay in touch with key players
Managing an estate is a lot of work. Circumstances change so the person who may have been the ideal choice five years ago, may no longer be able to fulfill their obligations.
Every two to three years, check-in with the individuals involved in your estate, such as:
Designate and update beneficiaries
By designating beneficiaries, you streamline the process for your loved ones.
Assets bequeathed in a will often go through probate which can be a costly and time-consuming process. Instead, a “Transfer on Death” (TOD) designation allows beneficiaries to quickly access these assets without going through probate.
Review beneficiaries for the following accounts and see if any need to be retitled to avoid probate:
- Savings, CDs, and individual brokerage accounts
- Retirement accounts
- Annuities and life insurance
Step 2: Organize & Simplify
It’s not glamorous but lists are super helpful. You probably don’t realize how much information is stored in your head, or in some random file, that your loved one will never be able to figure out on their own.
Organize yourself by creating lists of:
- All financial accounts which would include: the name, number, and login information
- Insurance policies
- Location of original estate planning documents
- Contents and location of safe deposit box
- Online document and photo portals with login information
- Social media accounts with login information
- Advisors, attorneys, accountants, and other professionals with contact information
Simplify as much as possible
Simplify – not only will this make things easier for your family, you’ll benefit right now as well!
Here are some ways to streamline and simplify your financial life:
- Consolidate accounts when possible.
- Set up direct deposit and bill pay. If possible, use one bank account and pay bills online.
- Find a home for any stock certificates and treasury bonds. Get them out of your safe deposit box, you can often deposit them at a financial institution where they’ll be easier to manage.
Step 3: Engage Your Loved Ones in the Planning
This can be a challenge as many families avoid talking about death. However, if you approach it with a caring and creative energy, it can be a positive experience, instead of a negative one.
The goal shouldn’t be to focus on your death but to celebrate your life. If you want your loved ones to honor your wishes, it’s important for them to know and understand them.
View it as an opportunity to:
- Become closer to family members. Approach it as a conversation, not a lecture. Ask for the input and listen to their suggestions.
- Share your life vision and how this played a role in your financial decisions. What inspired you to make the choices you did? What lessons did you learn that could benefit your loved ones?
- Share your values and inspire your family to carry on your legacy. For example, if philanthropy is a core value of your family, you could create a family philanthropy board, where you work together on causes that are important to you.
- Save your family later heartache and stress. What do you want in terms of a funeral? What’s important to you and why? Can you take care of some of the arrangements ahead of time?
- Address tough issues head on. You don’t want to wait until it’s a problem to talk about how the family will deal with potential cognitive decline. Have a plan on how and when a power of attorney should be used.
One Step You Can Take Now to Make This Whole Process Easier
By now, you’re seeing that estate planning goes beyond drafting a will. Having your financial advisor involved in your estate plan is a must. They’ll help you avoid expensive potential pitfalls and make decisions now that will benefit your loved ones in the future.
However, a financial life planner can do even more. With their unique skill set, they can help simplify and clarify your vision and values. They can provide continuity and support to family members during times of crisis and help them as they transition on to creating their own values and legacy. Curious about what’s involved in financial life planning?
For a comprehensive review of your personal situation, always consult with your tax or legal advisor.