Your estate plan should be created with the help of a professional team to provide you with the best advice and legal documentation to ensure your legacy is protected for future generations. Aside from an estate planning attorney, who often specializes in elder law, you may need the services of a certified public accountant (CPA) and possibly even an insurance specialist. Some estates may be large enough even to require valuation experts and trust services. Your elder law estate planning attorney understands the array of qualified information needed to create a sound estate plan.
- Procrastination – This is a fundamental error. The drawbacks that procrastination presents are often severe and sometimes unrecoverable. Heirs can incur unnecessary taxes and lose significant percentages of wealth. A business owner may unknowingly create discord with existing partners and vendor relationships. A simple Will may not be enough to address a more complex estate. If you haven’t already, it is time to take the first step and meet with an estate planning attorney to create your unique plan. During this process, you will identify which additional professional services can best benefit your planning.
- Traditional gender roles – While gender roles continue to evolve, more women, particularly the younger generations, are taking the reins of financial discussion and decision-making. However, many in the baby boomer generation (and older) occupy a space of traditional male-female roles. On average, women will outlive men. This statistic implies that inheritable assets between spouses will pass from a man to a woman most of the time. Therefore, the female’s estate plan more often than not controls the ultimate disposition of family wealth, and it is imperative to plan according to this likelihood. The involvement of both spouses is crucial for smooth transitions — a spouse of whichever gender may need more information to understand estate planning. Both spouses need to know their estate planning attorney, CPA, and other relevant planners.
- Older estate planning documents requiring review – Just because you already created your estate plan does not mean that changes in your life and your family do not affect what is in writing. A periodic review of your estate plan with your attorney and accountant can catch minor errors that may otherwise lead to catastrophic problems. Wills, trusts, divorce settlements, pension, insurance, and stock statements can be missing a critical step that may render the document invalid or not in full force. A missing signature, or an incomplete document can implode your estate plan. An unfinished divorce decree can derail your plans to pass wealth to your children, especially in the complex situations where remarriages occur and there are other competing interests in your property.
Change is a constant in life. A key player such as a named executor may be in failing health and no longer a viable solution in your estate plan. You may need to remove this person or add a contingent executor. If you have made significant structural changes to your finances, it will affect your estate plan. Some named inheritors may predecease you. It is essential to dial into the details with your attorney and accountant regularly with your documents and ensure they represent your most current situation and desires.
- A Will or Trust assumes that “fair” and “equal” are the same thing. Even if you have a simple estate plan, documents that divide your assets equally among heirs can have devastating consequences within a family system. If, for example, there are two adult children and one is involved in a family business, a parent may still want to divide the business asset fifty-fifty. On the face of it, this distribution seems equal however the child without involvement in the business will typically be pursuing their own professional goals leaving the family business interests protected solely by the family business involved inheritor.
Your estate planning attorney may suggest a buy-sell agreement allowing one child to take control of the business. The other child may receive a life insurance policy payout as compensation, creating an equal distribution of assets moving forward. This life insurance asset is generally tax-free to the beneficiary; therefore, the more independent child receives an asset without burdening the business’s financial and tax obligations. This decision may create a new imbalance; another life insurance policy can again equalize the asset value inherited by the child remaining in the family business. As the complexity of remaining equal increases, the services of a corporate attorney and an insurance specialist may become a requirement.
Other assets with changing value conditions like raw land, fine art, jewelry, and stocks, are factors to consider as the IRS will establish a value for your estate at the time of your death. Professional reappraisals of these assets, like estate document review, can help you keep your asset distribution as equal as possible under changing conditions.
Estate planning can be complex, and there is a constant potential for mistakes because of life changes, lack of coordination, and even oversights. Assembling the right group of professionals will get you to the estate plan you need for your legacy aspirations.