Because estate planning is a comprehensive matter that involves all areas of your financial life it is unlikely that any one person or resource will meet all of your estate-planning needs. It is more likely that you will want a team of advisors to guide and assist you with various aspects of your planning and will want to consider the following “members” for your team:
Attorney: A lawyer skilled in estate planning is essential. Your attorney will help you create the primary building blocks for your estate plan, such as a will or trust, to fulfill your objectives.
Accountant: Along with your attorney, your accountant will pinpoint important tax issues and help develop plans to deal effectively with them.
Investment Advisor: A good investment advisor can be invaluable as you work to build and preserve your asset base. Your investment advisor can be most effective when he or she knows and understands your overall goals and objectives and works with the other team members to achieve them.
Charitable Gift Planners: Development officers with experience in gift planning, such as our staff, can suggest ways to meet your charitable goals that work with and enhance your personal and family goals.
Bank/Trust Officers: You may need financing or management assistance to carry out your plan. A good relationship with a banker and/or a trust officer can be a great advantage in making your plan work.
Insurance Professional: Protection is a crucial aspect of any plan. Competent insurance professionals can make sure all your risks are adequately addressed.
Other Specialists: Depending on your objectives and the kinds of assets you have, persons with special expertise in areas such as real estate, art, or other collectibles may be a great help to you.
Putting Your Plan Together
Estate planning is a lifelong process that continues through the accumulation, preservation, and distribution phases of our financial lives. We try to anticipate what the future is likely to hold by taking steps to actively share the future. We then express our expectations about the future in the basic document of any estate plan: the will.
The Will: In many ways, a will represents our prediction of the future. In it we make fundamental decisions about the distribution of our assets, the care of our children, and the management of our affairs based on the best knowledge we have today.
It is important to note that, although a will disposes of much of our property, the disposition of some assets is controlled in other ways. For example, if you own your home jointly with your spouse, total ownership of it will pass automatically to whoever survives. Similarly, the beneficiary designation of your retirement plan or life insurance policy directs where the proceeds will go. While a will does not affect the disposition of such assets, it does control the ultimate distribution of everything else.
The good news is you can revise your will at any time. As you acquire more information, you may refine your goals, calling for some fine-tuning of your will. For example, one of your children may be doing quite well financially while another is just getting started, or perhaps still pursuing graduate education. Or a favorite charitable organization might have undertaken a new project of great interest to you that you would like to support in a significant way. A few simple changes in your will can address these emerging concerns.
The bad news is that if you don’t exercise your right to determine the disposition of your assets, the state has already done it for you. Chances are the results would not conform to your expectations. Your state has a plan for distributing your assets that depends on the particular mix of heirs that survive you. Keep in mind that your state’s plan will never make provisions for nonrelatives or your favorite charitable organizations.