Estate Planning

A Primer for Estate Planning

February 12, 2017
Share

Estate planning is a task that people tend to put off, as any discussion of “the end” tends to be off-putting. However, those who leave this world without their financial affairs in good order risk leaving their heirs some significant problems along with their legacies. No matter what your age, here are some things you may want to accomplish this year with regard to estate planning.

Create a will if you don’t have one. Many people never get around to creating a will, even to the point of buying a will-in-a-box at a stationery store or setting one up online.  A solid will drafted with the guidance of an estate planning attorney may cost you more than a will-in-a-box, and it may prove to be some of the best money you ever spend. A valid will may save your heirs from some expensive headaches linked to probate and ambiguity.

planningComplement your will with related documents. Depending on your estate planning needs, this could include some kind of trust (or multiple trusts), durable financial and medical powers of attorney, a living will and other items. You should know that a living will is not the same thing as a durable medical power of attorney. A living will makes your wishes known when it comes to life-prolonging medical treatments, and it takes the form of a directive. A durable medical power of attorney authorizes another party to make medical decisions for you (including end-of-life decisions) if you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make these decisions.

Review your beneficiary designations. Who is the beneficiary of your IRA? How about your 401(k)? How about your annuity or life insurance policy? If your answer is along the lines of “Mm … you know … I’m pretty sure it’s …” or “It’s been a while since …”, then be sure to check the documents and verify who the designated beneficiary is. When it comes to retirement accounts and life insurance, many people don’t know that beneficiary designations take priority over bequests made in wills and living trusts. If you long ago named a child now estranged from you as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, he or she will receive the death benefit when you die – regardless of what your will states. Time has a way of altering our beneficiary decisions. This is why some estate planners recommend that you review your beneficiaries every two years. In some states, you can authorize transfer-on-death designations. This is a tactic against probate: TOD designations may permit the ownership transfer of securities (and in a few states, forms of real property, vehicles and other assets) immediately at your death to the person designated. TOD designations are sometimes referred to as “will substitutes” but they usually pertain only to securities.

Create asset and debt lists. Does this sound like a lot of work? It may not be. You should provide your heirs with an asset and debt “map” they can follow should you pass away, so that they will be aware of the little details of your wealth.

  • One list should detail your real property and personal property assets. It should list any real estate you own, and its worth; it should also list personal property items in your home, garage, backyard, warehouse, storage unit or small business that have notable monetary worth.
  • Another list should detail your bank and brokerage accounts, your retirement accounts, and any other forms of investment plus any insurance policies.
  • A third list should detail your credit card debts, your mortgage and/or HELOC, and any other outstanding consumer loans.

Think about consolidating your “stray” IRAs and bank accounts. This could make one of your lists a little shorter. Consolidation means fewer account statements, less paperwork for your heirs and fewer administrative fees to bear.

Let your heirs know the causes and charities that mean the most to you. Have you ever seen the phrase, “In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to …” Well, perhaps you would like to suggest donations to this or that charity when you pass. Write down the associations you belong to and the organizations you support. Some non-profits do offer accidental life insurance benefits to heirs of members.

Select a reliable executor. Who have you chosen to administer your estate when the time comes? The choice may seem obvious, but consider a few factors. Is there a stark possibility that your named executor might die before you do? How well does he or she comprehend financial matters or the basic principles of estate law? What if you change your mind about the way you want your assets distributed – can you easily communicate those wishes to that person?  Your executor should have copies of your will, forms of power of attorney, any kind of healthcare proxy or living will, and any trusts you create. In fact, any of your loved ones referenced in these documents should also receive copies of them.  

Talk to professionals. Do-it-yourself estate planning is not recommended, especially if your estate is complex enough to trigger financial, legal and emotional issues among your heirs upon your passing. Many people have the idea that they don’t need an estate plan because their net worth is less than a certain amount. Keep in mind, money isn’t the only reason for an estate plan. You may not be a multimillionaire yet, but if you own a business, have a blended family, have kids with special needs, worry about dementia, or can’t stand the thought of probate delays plus probate fees whittling away at assets you have amassed … well, these are all good reasons to create and maintain an estate planning strategy.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a holistic method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

Who Needs Estate Planning?

October 16, 2015
Share

Why estate planning is so important for all.
estate-planning-337-177Simply stated, estate planning is creating a plan to determine how to distribute your property during your life and at your death. It is the process of developing and implementing a master plan that facilitates the distribution of your property after your death and according to your goals and objectives. Preparing a solid estate plan can ensure financial stability and peace of mind for a surviving spouse, preserve assets for children and grandchildren, minimize taxes and expenses and ensure your wishes are carried out.

You have an estate. It doesn’t matter how limited (or unlimited) your means may be, and it doesn’t matter if you own a home or homes.

Rich or poor, when you die, you leave behind an estate. For some, this can mean real property, cash, an investment portfolio and more. For others, it could be as straightforward as the $10 bill in their wallet and the clothes on their back. Either way, what you leave behind when you die is considered to be your “estate.”

“But, I don’t need estate planning … do I?” Let’s think about that. If the estate is small, should you still plan? Well, even if you’re just leaving behind the $10 bill in your wallet, who will inherit it? Do you have a spouse? Children? Is it theirs? Should it go to just one of them, or be split between them? If you don’t decide, you could potentially be leaving behind a legacy of legal headaches to your survivors. This, quite simply, is what estate planning is all about – deciding how what you have now (money and assets) will be distributed after your lifetime.

Do you HAVE to create an estate plan? While it is absolutely possible to die without planning your estate, I wouldn’t say that it is advisable. If you don’t leave behind an estate plan, your family could face major legal issues and (possibly) bitter disputes. So in our opinion, everyone should do some form of estate planning. Your estate plan could include wills and trusts, life insurance, disability insurance, a living will, a pre- or post-nuptial agreement, long-term care insurance, power of attorney and more.

Why not just a will? Did you know that your heirs could encounter legal hassles … even if you have a will? Basically, a will tells the world what you’d like to have happen, but proper estate planning is what provides the tools to make those things happen. While your will may state who your beneficiaries are, those beneficiaries may still have to seek a court order to have assets transfer from your name to theirs, and in such a case, those assets won’t lawfully belong to them until the court procedure (known as probate) concludes. Estate planning can include items like properly prepared and funded trusts, which could help your heirs to avoid probate.

Proper estate planning may help to make sure that your loved ones are provided for or additionally, avoiding probate or reducing taxes. Estate planning can be as simple as implementing a will (the foundation of any estate plan) and purchasing life insurance or as complicated as executing trusts and exploring other sophisticated tax and estate planning techniques. Estate planning is extremely important if you are wealthy or have a smaller estate. In fact, estate planning is more important if you have a smaller estate because final expenses will have a greater impact on your overall estate and financial picture. Misusing even a single asset may cause your loved ones to suffer from lack of financial resources.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a holistic method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

How can a letter of wishes help your will?

November 10, 2014
Share

trust-estate-planning     Preparing your estate for a smooth transition to your heirs is not something most of us typically like to dwell on. But, with a little forethought you can help to save your family and loved ones any additional pain, unnecessary costs, or disagreements.     

     Most of us already have a standard will. Having a proper and up to date will is a necessary start for handling all the basic legal requirements for passing on your estate. But, there are a number of items that a will alone typically does not address. To deal with these topics, we recommend that our clients also draft a Letter of Wishes. The Letter of Wishes is designed to accompany the will, and makes sure that all of your last requests are known and clearly understood. And, it also is designed to avoid unnecessary delays, errors in executing your wishes, and helps minimize the costs involved for your loved ones.

     Here are several suggestions you may consider including in you or your loved one’s Letter of Wishes: (more…)

How to Optimize Your Estate Plan

April 30, 2014
Share

In estate planning, there is definitely a large gap between how much importance one places on ensuring family security and what one does to “actually” ensure that security. In a recent survey, U.S. Trust revealed that most wealthy families have an estate plan in place, but only 39 percent indicated that they feel secure about the comprehensive nature of their plan to distribute their wealth.

Over the past century, wealthy individuals have given more emphasis on goals such as financial security and financial freedom for themselves and their family. They’ve allocated resources for extensive travel after retirement and focused more on quality relationships with family and friends; besides simply leaving a financial inheritance. Moreover, concerns over their heirs’ ability to handle large inheritances have made most people hide the true value of their estate from their children, says the survey. (more…)

What Would Happen If You Lost Half of Your Wealth

April 29, 2014
Share

pic_integrated_wealth_managementThere’s always one major goal in investment planning. For both financial advisors and their clients, the main goal is to watch the net worth of their clients increase gradually over time. However, the most worrying aspect of investment is the risk of losing a significant portion of the portfolio due to unforeseen events. Regardless of meticulous planning, there are situations that can severely damage the portfolio. Some of such financial catastrophes are:

Unpredictable Swings in the Stock Market
As per the Dow Joes 30 Industrial Average, the greatest single day decline in the stock market value happened on October 19, 1987; when the US Equity markets lost 22.61 percent of market capitalization. The dreadful loss of paper value could have been avoided if investors kept an eye on the long term goals, and refused to sell. Same thing happened during the recent financial crisis, as well. (more…)