Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why Counseling? Why the Three Steps?*

Many people think of estate planning as a way to save estate taxes and perhaps a way to avoid probate.  There are many more important reasons for estate planning.

For example, have you considered the following questions?:

  • How do you want to be cared for when you can't take care of yourself?  
  • If your wife remarries after you die, do you want to make sure that her new husband can't spend your money? 
  •  If your husband hits a van full of lawyers after you die, do you want to make it harder for them to collect your money when they sue him?  
  • If your wife divorces her new husband after her remarriage, do you want to make sure that he doesn't get half of your money?  
  • Do you want to make sure that your guardians know how to share your values while they finish raising your children?

I suggest that most of people would answer "yes" to all these questions.  So how can you make sure your plan is accomplishing these things?

Problem #1 with Traditional Estate Planning:  Most estate plans are upside down!  They focus on tax planning instead of personal concern, protections, and goals.

Problem #2 with Traditional Estate Planning:  Most estate plans just don't work!  A plan works when every expectation of the client is met.  These expectations aren't met because clients and professional advisors see estate planning as a transaction ending in documents, instead of the process ending in results.  Things change.  Estate plans should, too.

We believe that client families will achieve the best estate planning results with a Three Step Strategy that uses clear, comprehensive, customized instructions for their own care and that of their loved ones.  The instructions might include a will, a trust, a power of attorney, a living will, and other documents.

Step #1: Work with a Counseling-Oriented Attorney as opposed to a word-processing attorney.  Most estate planning in the U.S. is little more than word-processing.  You don't need a professional for that! The professional's value come from the counsel and advice based on knowledge, wisdom, and experience.

Step #2:  Establish and Maintain a Formal Updating Program.  There is a constant change in personal situations, both family and financial.  Tax laws and other laws change every year in ways that will impact many estate plans.  Finally, because attorneys don't know everything, the attorney's experience and expertise change.  Without updating, plans won't work the way the family intended them to.  Without a Formal Updating Program, the updating rarely happens.

Step #3: Assure that My Wisdom is Transferred Along with My Wealth.  In many families, the parents have an abundance of wisdom that has often been earned the hard way.  Through Wealth Reception, an approach that prepares children and grandchildren (or nephews and nieces, or godchildren, or friends) to receive wealth, parents' wisdom can help make their money a benefit instead of the burden that is often becomes.

Most financial windfalls, including inheritances, disappear within 18 months.  Our clients can avoid that unfortunate conclusion to an otherwise worthy inheritance with proper Wealth Reception planning.

*Adapted from the Planning Partners Press.

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