Estate Planning should be a collaborative effort and not conducted alone. I know there are a lot of “do it yourselfers” and web sites, self help books and the like which folks turn to because they have “heard” that attorneys are so expensive. Here’s the question. After having worked a lifetime to develop all you have, your wealth, your name, and your values, and if you wish to leave your loved ones in a good condition when you die and establish your legacy, is this really the time to “economize”? Believe me, no matter where you turn for assistance you will be doing a lot of work yourself, as I will point out below, but having some guidance is very worthwhile. Do not be swayed by the stock statements one hears which have no foundation, such as “you must avoid probate” or “if you have a trust, you don’t need a will”. The first statement may be true, depending on your situation, and the latter statement is never true.
There are a number of aspects to an estate plan such as medical considerations for serious illness; handling your financial life if you become incapacitated; guardianship for minor children; passing down business interests; how assets with beneficiary designations or transfer on death provisions effect your overall plan; imparting your values to your children and grandchildren; leaving bequests to your most important charities; dealing with blended families ,which are increasingly common, leaving funds for a child who does not have good financial management habits and working with assets which present their own set of unique considerations and possible complications such as real estate, digital assets, pets and firearms.
Clients sit down with me personally, and together we review the entire financial and family situation and plan for a host of possible contingencies. In the end, if I am not hired, it costs all of $100.00. If I am hired, all funds collected are credited towards the fees for my work.
Now, no matter the extent of my help and guidance, there is a lot of work the clients must do themselves. Each individual life is unique as are each individual’s families. The thought and planning which goes into the desired outcome of an estate plan, I can not do. Additionally, even after the plan is organized and the documents are signed and duly notarized, work is not over. It is never over. Life goes on and events occur. There are marriages, divorces, remarriages, deaths, births and occasional changes to the law which we all must keep our eye on. I have written a previous article about when you should review your will and trust. Moreover, now that you have all these excellent estate documents such as a will, power of attorney, advance medical directives and perhaps a trust, disposition of remains power, or a transfer on death deed, who can find them and other important documents when you are gone? Will they know what to do with them?
I have a friend/client (many clients have become my friends) who at the end of each year, works to get his important documents together to be placed into his fireproof safe. As far as I know, he is still working on finding all his documents so he can tell his children what they are and where to find them. The list includes 529 documents; health care instructions; durable financial power of attorney, escrow mortgage accounts, instructions for funeral and burial, property deeds, IRAs, Life Insurance policies, user names and passwords, bank accounts, medical history, business agreements, stock certificates, savings bonds and brokerage accounts, a will and trust documents, and automobile titles. I hope he will complete the list and instructions soon and I think he will. It just takes some uninterrupted time to focus. This is not something I can do for him.
I share the list so you all can begin thinking of what is important and how to make the life of your loved one’s easier when you pass. How would you want them to spend time remembering you? I think you would want them remembering the good times and the lessons you have wanted to impart rather than running around dealing with the headaches of cleaning up after you. Take the time, it is well worth it, and everyone who has had a planning session with me has found it to be very worthwhile.