family wealth

Will You Avoid These Estate Planning Mistakes?

February 11, 2017
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Too many households commit these common blunders.

Many people plan their estates diligently, with input from legal, tax and financial professionals. Others plan earnestly, but make mistakes that can potentially affect both the transfer and destiny of family wealth. Here are some common and not-so-common errors to avoid.

Doing it all yourself. While you could write your own will or create a will or trust from a template, it can be risky to do so. Sometimes simplicity has a price. Look at the example of Warren Burger. The former Chief Justice of the United States wrote his own will, and it was just 176 words long. It proved flawed – after he died in 1995, his heirs wound up paying over $450,000 in estate taxes and other fees, costs that likely could have been avoided with a lengthier and less informal will containing appropriate language.

Failing to update your will or trust after a life event. Relatively few estate plans are reviewed over time. Any life event should prompt you to review your will, trust, or other estate planning documents. So should a life event affecting one of your beneficiaries.

Appointing a co-trustee. Trust administration is not for everyone. Some people lack the interest, the time, or the understanding it requires, and others balk at the responsibility and potential liability involved. A co-trustee also introduces the potential for conflict.

Being too vague with your heirs about your estate plan. While you may not want to explicitly reveal who will get what prior to your passing, your heirs should have an understanding of the purpose and intentions at the heart of your estate planning. If you want to distribute more of your wealth to one child than another, write a letter to be presented after your death that explains your reasoning. Make a list of which heirs will receive particular collectibles or heirlooms. If your family has some issues, this may go a long way toward reducing squabbles and the possibility of legal costs eating up some of this or that heir’s inheritance.

Failing to consider what will happen if you & your partner are unmarried. The “marriage penalty” affecting joint filers aside, married couples receive distinct federal tax breaks in this country – estate tax breaks among them. This year, the lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion amount is $5.45 million for an individual, but $10.9 million for a married couple. If you live together and you are not married, it is worth considering how your unmarried status might affect your estate planning with regard to federal and state taxes. As Forbes mentioned last year, federal and state taxes claimed more than more than $15 million of the $35 million estate of Oscar-winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He left 100% of his estate to his longtime partner, and since they had never married, she could not qualify for the marriage exemption on inherited assets. While the individual lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion protected a relatively small portion of Hoffman’s estate from death taxes, the much larger remainder was taxed at rates of up to 40% rather than being passed tax-free. Hoffman also lived in New York, a state which levies a 16% estate tax for non-spouses once estates exceed $1 million.

Leaving a trust unfunded (or underfunded). Through a simple, one-sentence title change, a married couple can fund a revocable trust with their primary residence. As an example, if a couple retitles their home from “Heather and Michael Smith, Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship” to “Heather and Michael Smith, Trustees of the Smith Revocable Trust dated (month) (day), (year)”. They are free to retitle myriad other assets in the trust’s name.

Ignoring a caregiver with ulterior motives. Very few people consider this possibility when creating a will or trust, but it does happen. A caregiver harboring a hidden agenda may exploit a loved one to the point where he or she revises estate planning documents for the caregiver’s financial benefit. We believe the best estate plans are clear in their language, clear in their intentions, and updated as life events demand. They are overseen through the years with care and scrutiny, reflecting the magnitude of the transfer of significant wealth.

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.

Teaching Your Heirs to Value Wealth

October 5, 2015
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Values can help determine goals & a clear purpose.
family-wealthSome families are reluctant to talk to their kids about family wealth and are even afraid what they may do with it. In a 2015 national survey, 44% of families having at least $1 million in investable assets said that they had not yet told their children about their future inheritance. Another 27% said they had refrained from mentioning it until their children were 30 or older.   It can be awkward to talk about such matters, but these parents likely postponed discussing this topic for another reason: they wanted their kids to grow up with a strong work ethic instead of a “wealth ethic.”

If a child grows up knowing he or she can expect a sizable inheritance, that child may look at family wealth like water from a free-flowing spigot with no drought in sight. It may be relied upon if nothing works out; it may be tapped to further whims born of boredom. The perception that family wealth is a fallback rather than a responsibility can contribute to the erosion of family assets. Factor in a parental reluctance to say “no” often enough, throw in an addiction or a penchant for racking up debt and the stage is set for wealth to dissipate. How might a family plan to prevent this

Create a family mission statement. To truly share in the commitment to sustaining family wealth, you and your heirs can create a family mission statement, preferably with the input or guidance of a financial services professional or estate planning attorney. Introducing the idea of a mission statement to the next generation may seem pretentious, but it is actually a good way to encourage those to think about the value of the wealth their family has amassed and their role in the intention.

This mission statement can be as brief or as extensive as you wish. It should articulate certain shared viewpoints. What values matter most to your family? What is the purpose of your family’s wealth? How do you and your heirs envision the next decade or the next generation of the family business? What would you and your heirs like to accomplish, either together or individually? How do you want to be remembered? These questions (and others) may seem philosophical rather than financial, but they can actually drive the decisions made to sustain and enhance family wealth.

Feel no shame in exerting some control. A significant percentage of families seek to define a purpose for transferred wealth. In the survey, 32% of parents aged 55 or younger said they were going to specify what their heirs could use their inheritances for, and that was also true for 15% of parents aged 55-69 and 9% of parents aged 70 or older.

You may want to distribute inherited wealth in phases. A trust provides a great mechanism to do so; a certain percentage of trust principal can be conveyed at age X and then the rest of it Y years later, as carefully stated in the trust language. This is a way to avoid a classic mistake: giving too much money at once. In fact, a 2015 report notes that 46% of high net worth parents share that very concern.

Just how much is too much? Answers vary per family, of course. In the aforementioned survey, 46% of families said that they wanted to avoid handing down the kind of money that would dissuade their heirs from realizing their full potential in their lives and careers. By involving your kids in the discussion of where the family wealth will go when you are gone, you encourage their intellectual and emotional investment in its future. Pair values, defined goals, and clear purpose with financial and you will take a confident step toward making family wealth last longer.

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.