Figuring out what will happen to all of our assets when we die can be time consuming. As a result, many people simply avoid it altogether.
Breaking news – everyone eventually passes on, we just don’t know when! It could happen today, tomorrow or decades from now. The fact is, death is certain and it’s important to prepare for it. With more than three decades of estate planning experience, I’ve seen it all. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that procrastination reigns. People don’t want to deal with death, so heirs are often left with a veritable scavenger hunt, trying to sort through their loved one’s assets and figure out what he or she wanted done with it all. You don’t have to burden your heirs with such an emotional and time-consuming task. Below I’ve outlined my pragmatic list of things to do from both a financial and non-financial standpoint.
First, whatever your faith, consider spending time reflecting, being thankful and pondering what comes after your time on this planet. Surely there is more to life than simply “the chase” to expand the family balance sheet. Significant wealth, by itself, can be a very hollow scorecard. With thoughtful planning, however, wealth can do great things for society, in addition to achieving typical family security objectives.
Invariably when I ask people if they have a will, about one-third answer “no.” This is particularly true of individuals who are age 40 and younger. Those who indicate that they do have a will typically add something like, “Yes, but it was done 20 years ago,” or some variation thereof. Most people don’t actually understand what their estate planning documents provide and the majority haven’t read them since they were initially drafted.
Beneficiary designations are another problem. Retirement accounts (i.e., IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, etc.), life insurance and some bank accounts pass pursuant to the beneficiary designation, regardless of what a will says. Most individuals forget how their beneficiary designations read and, moreover, don’t take the time to inventory which accounts pass by beneficiary designation and which ones don’t. It is important that your beneficiary designations are consistent with the objectives set out in your will and trust.
If you’re ready to take care of the financial aspects of estate planning, here’s what you need to address as soon as possible:
- Will and Trust. This will identify who gets what and which assets pass to whom. It will also identify who will be guardians of any minor children.
- Durable Power of Attorney. This is used in case you’re incapacitated and unable to handle your financial affairs. The holder of the power can act on your behalf, temporarily or permanently.
- Healthcare Power of Attorney. This gives the power holder the right to make medical decisions on your behalf. More than one person may hold this power and it is typically assigned to family members.
- Beneficiary Designations. This stipulates who receives the proceeds from a retirement account, life insurance policy, annuity, etc. Your lawyer will provide the verbiage to be used for this purpose at the same time you update your will and trust.
Once you’ve addressed the financial planning, it’s time to get organized and spare your heirs the scavenger hunt! We’ve seen significant demand for an online “Family Portal” to house all of the important family documents. SilverStone Asset Management utilizes the SilverStone Family Wealth Portal as a one-stop online resource to house important financial documents. Once uploaded, your survivors can get copies of wills, tax returns, insurance policies, car titles, etc., all in one place. We call it the “vault.” You can grant access to select family members and others on your advisory team (lawyers, accountants, trust officers, etc.) You can also quickly review all of your investment and bank accounts
at any time.
If you don’t have access to a portal, another solution is to simply put together a detailed notebook and review it annually for any changes that occurred during the year.
Life events requiring updates to your wills, trusts and beneficiary designations include the following:
- Divorce, marriage, remarriage
- Death or incapacity of a beneficiary, individual trustee or guardian
- Material changes in net worth (positive and negative)
- Deterioration in your health or the health of your spouse
- Change in your state of residence
No Day like Today
My hope is that you act now and prepare for death, both spiritually and financially. Don’t procrastinate! I urge you to be proactive and save your grieving family the burden of trying to piece together the puzzle that we call your estate. There’s no time like the present – you have the power to make this part of your passing less painful for your heirs. Why not leave a great legacy reflecting your organized and thoughtful advanced planning?
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