What Exactly Is Estate Planning Anyway? Isn’t It Just For the Wealthy?
7 Good Reasons You Need An Estate Plan — Even If You Only Have $500 in the Bank
Contrary to popular belief, estate planning is not just about money or taxes. Far from it. Today, it’s more about protecting your assets for yourself and your loved ones, achieving your financial goals and safeguarding your health care. Money and taxes aside, here are 7 good reasons you need an estate plan:
1. Your Health care. Defining how your medical needs will be addressed in case you cannot make health care decisions for yourself is a primary objective of having an estate plan. You also need to consider how you will meet the costs of long-term care. You need to name someone to make decisions for you and tell them how you want them made. This must be legally documented or the person you want caring for you, cannot.
2. Probate. Probate is an unnecessary, public and often expensive Court process that takes control out of your family’s hands and puts that control in the hands of a Judge who doesn’t know you or what’s important to you. A main focus of estate planning is keeping your family out of Court. Period.
3. Family feuds. Family fights over how assets are divided and distributed are common when there is no estate plan and/or trusted advisor to guide family members. Sadly enough, these fights happen even when amounts of money are small OR even when there is no money at stake. Some of the biggest fights we’ve seen happen in storage units over sentimental items with no monetary value at all. If you don’t want your family to fight, you plan your estate.
4. Beneficiary forms. You likely have several assets that cannot be passed along in a will alone. These include IRAs, life insurance, retirement plans and annuities, all of which are governed by beneficiary forms that specify who is to receive the assets upon the death of an account holder. Completing these forms properly is estate planning
5. Kids and parents. If you are currently responsible for the care of minor children, elderly parents or a person who has special needs you need a plan for the continuation of that care after you are gone.
6. Managing assets. Is your spouse or other family member capable of managing all your assets? If not, you will need to name someone who is capable of doing this now so your assets will be managed wisely for the benefit of your family in the future.
7. Business succession. If you own a business, you will need a succession plan to govern what happens to your ownership shares if something should happen to you.
How Are You Different?
Here are some of the ways we are different from most estate planning lawyers:
- All of our fees are fixed fees agreed to in advance, so there are no surprises. At our initial meeting you will choose the level of planning and fee that works best for your family, so there will never be any surprises.
- We keep you informed and make sure your plan works. We don’t just prepare a set of legal documents for you and send you on your way. We make sure your assets are owned in the right way, we make sure your kids’ well-being is properly planned for, we ensure everyone you’ve named in your plan knows what to do if anything happens to you.
- We review your plan at least every 3 years and annually through our Family Wealth VIP Membership program. We foster a lifetime, ongoing relationship with our clients. Throughout your life, things change. You change; your assets change; your family changes; the law will definitely change.
- We have a whole team in place to answer your quick questions and to make the planning process incredibly easy and painless for you and your family. We have a process for helping you make sure that your assets are titled in the right way, both now and over your lifetime.
- We help you get your legal and financial house in order by helping you make smart choices about things like buying insurance, saving for college, and retirement planning so you never spend more than you have to or get taken advantage of by unscrupulous sales people.
- Legacy Planning. We believe that planning is about much more than just the transfer of your financial wealth. With all of our plans, we include a process to help you transfer your most important personal wealth to your loved ones, including your intellectual, spiritual and human assets – who you are and what’s important to you.
What can I expect at my first meeting?
On the day of your meeting, please expect to spend up to 2 hours with your attorney. The initial meeting with your attorney has two purposes:
To identify whether there is a good fit between you, our firm and the attorney; and
To educate you about the law and what would happen if you died with your current (or no) plan in place.
By looking at what would happen under your current plan, you can identify what you would want to happen differently and then together with your attorney’s guidance make the decisions that are necessary to give you the peace of mind of knowing your family would be taken care of in the way you want if something happened to you.
Assuming that you and your attorney determine that there is a good fit between our firm and your family AND that you identify specific ways you would want things to happen that are different than what would happen if something happened to you, you and your attorney can design a plan for your family right away.
How long will the planning process take?
One of the most valuable things you can get out of the estate planning process is a more thorough understanding of your legal and financial life. We take time with you throughout to provide a healthy orientation and education so you can make good decisions. We’ve found that to make this worthwhile for you, the process should take 6-8 weeks, at most. Once we get started, we won’t stop until it’s finished and you can rest easy that the work is done. No malingering or dilly-dallying.
How much does it cost to create my plan?
It varies depending on your family dynamics, assets, and goals. We charge flat fees, meaning that before your engage with us you’ll know exactly what it will cost. No hourly billing. No surprise charges for those extra phone calls.
How should I choose my guardians?
This is one of the most difficult decisions to make, but don’t let that stop you from putting a plan in place. Let a combination of knowledge and intuition drive your decision. Understand first that if you don’t choose a guardian, and one’s needed, then someone else (a judge) will choose – someone who doesn’t know your family or your preferences.