We’re all going to go at some point, and while you may not want to think about it, not to mention, talk about it, you’re not alone.
So what are the consequences of your inaction then?
You might think your estate planning will get miraculously sorted out, and that squabbling relatives are just the stuff of TV dramas. But you’re not just leaving an estate. You’re leaving what we at Rochester Investments, call “a legacy.”
You want to be the one who’s in control of what happens to what matters most to you. Your decisions about your minor children, dependents, financial assets and even your own health care are up in the air if you don’t formally set everything up ahead of time. Without proper estate planning or a legacy strategy, your assets could be subject to the time-consuming, expensive and very public probate process where relatives and creditors can gain access to your records and even challenge your will.
Even though about 77 percent of Americans believe having such a strategy in place is important for everyone – not just the rich – only 24 percent have even taken the most basic steps to get one. Simple things like designating beneficiaries for all their accounts or updating beneficiaries are often getting overlooked. To avoid even one of those “then what?” moments, here are some of the key items to consider:
What’s the worst that can happen if you haven’t written one? “Plenty,” as US News & World Report has written, “depending on your situation, the personalities of the people in your life – and the estate laws of your state.” In other words, some court judge can be deciding who gets your assets if your family can’t agree on their own.
If you’re self-employed for example and want to leave your business to one of your children you may run into what it’s called “estate equalization” issues. If you have small children, the court could also wind up appointing a guardian for your minor kids and that person may not be the one that you want to be taking care of them if you’re gone.
A Living Trust
Are you a homeowner? Do you own more than one home? Or maybe you want to leave more to one child than the others? Assets you register into a revocable living trust are there for your benefit during your lifetime, but can be managed by your named trustee if you become incapacitated, and are harder to contest than wills.
A Health Care Proxy
In the same way that you don’t want some judge deciding who gets your memorabilia collection, for instance, you definitely don’t want the courts having to settle a family fight over whether you’re kept alive or not. And, yes, it has had happened.
You don’t want to be among the 76 percent the survey found hadn’t even bothered, for starters, to fill in a beneficiary’s name on accounts such as their 401(k) Plan or other investments. Or worst yet, you got divorced but your ex-spouse is still listed as your primary beneficiary.
You may want to leave a legacy to your favorite school or a charity but you don’t know if you should just write them a check or create a more enhanced distribution strategy that may help you or your family with investment income or realized gains on appreciated stocks that you own.
For some, estate planning is as simple as writing will. But we as your local financial advisor at Rochester Investments can work with you and your tax and legal team to deploy a strategy that, among other things, potentially avoids the court process known as probate, or other as equally important financial planning decisions, while also making sure that your investments are aligned with your goals.