Have you ever found yourself or heard someone else saying:
- “I’m too young to do estate planning.”
- “All my property is titled in joint tenancy with my spouse, so I don’t need any estate planning documents.”
- “Estate planning is only for the super-rich.”
- “Estate planning is too complicated and expensive.”
- “We did our wills right after we got married 30 years ago and see no need for further planning.”
October is National Estate Planning Awareness Month across the United States. And National Estate Planning Awareness Week, the third week of the month, was adopted in 2008 to help the public understand what estate planning is, and why it is such a vital component of financial wellness.
The purpose of estate planning is to help you maintain financial security through your lifetime and ensure the intended transfer of property and assets at death while taking into consideration the unique circumstances of your family and the potential costs of different methods.
Too often, estate planning is an overlooked element of financial wellness. It is estimated that over half of Americans – 56% – do not have an up-to-date estate plan and approximately 60% die without any documents in place at all.
It is estimated that over 120,000,000 Americans do not have up-to-date estate plans to protect themselves or their families in the event of sickness or accidents.
The longer I am in the financial industry, the more “sad stories” I hear. Sad stories I have witnessed first-hand recently include:
- a widow watched her husband’s 401(k) go to his brother instead of her;
- a woman, while in the process of drafting their estate planning documents (but not yet signed), had to go through the conservatorship AND guardianship process with her husband after a major vehicle accident left him with severe brain injuries;
- a widow from a blended family watched her late husband’s adult children walk through her home and take things they felt belonged to them.
All of this could have been prevented by signing a piece of paper! Yes! It begins with thinking about your wishes during your lifetime and after you are gone. See my checklists for considerations when drafting a will, naming a power of attorney, and what yourend-of-life wishesare. Then compile a list of assets and identify “your stuff” and where you want it to go.
Once you’ve given thought to all of that, you are ready to see an attorney to have your documents drafted to make them effective. I am personally not a fan of DIY estate documents. Too often we don’t know what we don’t know, and an attorney can help you think through things you never would have thought about.
Once your documents are drafted and current, there is often what I call “estate planning homework.” Once you have identified in your documents what you want to happen, there may be account titling and beneficiary updates that need to be made. A common mistake is thinking that the will or trust will take care of everything, and you don’t have to do anything else.
Think about a beneficiary designation like it is a mini-will. The IRA account will not check with the will or trust for distribution after death (unless the estate or trust is listed as the beneficiary and that is often not the best recommendation). Instead, the IRA custodian (Fidelity or Schwab, for example) will distribute the IRA to the beneficiaries they have listed on file.
If nothing else, I encourage you to double-check your beneficiary designations this month by either confirming online, checking your copies of the form you submitted, or call the company where each account is held. Don’t guess or assume!
For more help with the homework side of estate planning, check out my virtual workshops. Our end of life is inevitable, so why not make it less painless for your family? It’s already a difficult time, and you want them to remember you favorably, not with anger or frustration. Make October the month you improve your family’s financial wellness!
I’m curious, what prompted you to get your estate planning done? Any tips you can share with others in our community? Let’s have a discussion!