Estate planning is not only about dying; it is a lifelong process. The impact of estate planning extends beyond the span of an individual life it impacts the surviving spouse as well as future generations. Estate planning is a very personal matter, that is why you must feel comfortable with your planner; proper planning represents the review of the “estate” you have created, the children you have raised and your intentions as well as capability in preserving the assets for your beneficiaries.
Estate planning represents the “charted” distribution plan that covers not only who you leave your estate to, but also in what manner you wish to implement your intentions. With very rare exception, there is a strong sense of relief when you have completed your estate plan. Also, the planners you are involved with must be capable of keeping your plan “current”, you must be constantly updated regarding the ever changing status of the tax laws as well as tax related rulings.
The average person marrying today for the first time will spend more time caring for parents than raising their own children. In today’s world, the average person, in one lifetime, will have more spouses than children. This movement in personal lifestyles as well as financial priorities challenges you as well as your adviser’s ability to protect your legacies. The value of a competent estate planning team cannot be overstated. It takes a good quotient of patience and effort to coordinate the right team of professionals for your planning needs; but this is the only way to truly allow your intentions to become reality. Several professionals are required to implement your objectives—the estate planning attorney, the certified public accountant, and the financial planner. These professionals must coordinate your objectives and honor your desires in creating the appropriate financial plan as well as the efficient estate tax plan to result in the right program for you. This is a critical ongoing process; your team must have the ability to work together, to identify your needs, to ask the necessary questions and to zero in on the issues in order to create solutions—or it just won’t work!
Effective estate planning requires talking about issues you do not want to address—death and taxation. The alternatives are simply brutal; perhaps a spouse without the benefit of any planning, which makes the government your ultimate beneficiary, or not providing for your children as you wished, or not addressing your grandchildren as you spoke of so frequently. The saddest event to witness as an estate planner is “the shopping client”, that is the individual or couple who comes in for a consultation, and when shocked by the fact that an estate tax liability exists, but can be eliminated, decides to “think about it”; until it’s too late!
The estate planning attorney provides the expertise required to ensure your assets pass according to your expressed wishes and with a minimal, if any, cost to the heirs. The financial consultant works with you, as well as the estate planner, to ensure that information pertaining to assets and liabilities is correctly documented. Also, the financial planner must work with the estate planner to create the right receptacle for your assets, and to be sure the assets are titled properly so they will pass to the beneficiaries as intended. The estate planner, and financial planner, should review, on an annual basis, changes in your financial “picture” as well as changes you may have with respect to your intentions, as the same are impacted by changes in the law or recent judicial decisions. It is also very important for estate planners and financial planners to review at least annually your personal changes as well as monitor health conditions, this is necessary to soothe the transition during a difficult time, such as death or disability, for the benefit of your spouse and family. Not only must you have the peace of mind that you have the right comfort level with your estate and financial planners, remember that upon death or disability this team should also fit well with your family and fiduciaries, when you find this team you will have the peace of mind you deserve—and your family will appreciate all you have accomplished for yourself and them.