Step 6: Estate Planning
Estate planning is a concept that is often considered more as a legal than a financial concern. It also tends to be attributed to people with larger, more valuable holdings that comprise their ‘estates’. Both of these contain elements of accuracy, but this does not make estate planning exclusive to attorneys or ‘the rich’. In fact, estate planning is a very important aspect of financial and retirement planning for anyone with some money and other assets, and who have minor children or special needs family members.
We start the estate planning process by asking our clients 3 general but important questions:
- What do you want to happen to your money when you are gone, or if you become incapacitated while still living?
- If you are the primary caregiver for a minor child or special needs family member, who will take over if you should die or become incapacitated?
- What do you want to happen to you at the end of your life, or if you become incapacitated while still living?
In other words — Where do you want your money to go? Who would care for loved ones? How do you want to be cared for?
These are questions you must consider and address while you are still alive and still mentally able to. Too many people put off addressing these very important questions until it is too late, such as after death or after experiencing a medical issue that renders them incapacitated. And if you don’t provide clear and documented answers to these questions, then someone else will. For example, a court will decide these things for you, or family or other persons will. But here is the problem – they may do things and make decisions that are contrary to what you would have wanted. However, at the point of being either dead or incapacitated, you are obviously unable to intercede on your own behalf, or on behalf of others you care about. Failing to establish a complete and current estate plan can lead to major problems, including higher legal expenses and disagreements or all out fights between family members or business associates. Estates, businesses, and relationships can be utterly destroyed in some cases, which is why we strongly encourage our clients to address and complete this planning step.
Estate planning is making certain that things happen the way you want them to if you are unable to state your wishes or provide direction. Estate plans can be fairly simple in nature and structure, or can be extremely complex depending on the amount and type of assets and the needs of family members or business associates. Some of the documents involved include a Will, Advanced Healthcare Directives, Power of Attorney for various purposes, various types of Trusts, along with other items if a business is involved and depending on other circumstances.
As financial and retirement planners, we are typically not involved in developing or drafting any of these documents and recommend that our clients seek out the assistance and advice of qualified legal professionals. But what is clear is that financial and retirement plans could and probably would be all for naught upon the death or incapacity of themselves, a spouse, or business associate.
As part of Step 6 we provide worksheets, internet tools, and partnerships that are designed to provide estate planning information and guidance. These are not a substitute for competent legal counsel, but can assist in developing an estate plan based on your particular needs and objectives.