Estate Planning: Now’s the time to prepare

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One of Michele Francisco’s clients recently passed away. The client wanted her surviving spouse to have access to her work email, but her employer shut down the email account following her death. It’s little details like this that one has to consider when organizing an estate, she said.

“You don’t realize these things. … What if they needed to get stuff in there?” Francisco said. “Administering after death — it runs the gamut.”

Francisco, partner and senior relationship manager at RMB Capital, and financial advisor Dennis Brown, said people should begin planning their estate as soon as you have assets that to pass down to loved ones or charitable causes and reviewing their plans periodically over time. Both said it’s best to begin the process in your early 20s because that’s when consumers will start earning investable income.

“You can start that planning process early on,” Brown said. “That’s the soonest you can start and [life insurance is] at the cheapest point for you.”

And, just because individuals know that they have assets to manage after their death doesn’t mean they’ve sufficiently planned for the worst. A 2016 Rocket Lawyer survey conducted by Harris Poll found that 64 percent of Americans do not have a will.

“Whether it’s super basic plan like drafting a will or putting powers of attorney in place all the way up to complex trusts et cetera, they’re really important, because … regardless of your wealth, you want to have a voice in the decisions made on your behalf,” Francisco said.

So what exactly should consumers have in their estate planning toolkits? Francisco divides the estate planning takes into two categories—documents and financial tools.

To start, Francisco recommends consumers create a will or trust, review beneficiaries on their retirement accounts every few years, healthcare and property power of attorneys to outline their wishes before their death. Financial tools like 529 plans for college students, life insurance, and establishing Roth IRAs for young adult children are good ways to pass generational wealth regardless of a death in the family, she said.

Having a trust offers a bit more privacy than a will, because it keeps details about one’s personal belongings and assets out of probate court, Francisco said. Consumers can find wills and trust templates online, she added.

“[People] hear trust and they think, ‘I need to have lots and lots of money.’ But you technically don’t,” Francisco said. “It’s a much more private and seamless administration of things after you pass.”

In the digital era, consumers have to organize their digital lives as well as his physical estate planning documents, Francisco said. She recommends keeping passwords in an accessible place for your loved ones to find. Some clients keep a list of all of their advisor contacts, she added.

When it comes to life insurance, whole life insurance policies generally come with higher premiums than term life insurance policies, but their cash value increases over time and policyholders can recoup their premiums at the end of the term, Brown said.

“It’s all going to come down to your budget,” he said. “Your budget will dictate how long of a period that you’ll pay into it.”

It’s important to make sure that consumers have the correct beneficiaries listed not only on their life insurance, but also retirement accounts and other financial accounts, Francisco and Brown said. For minors, you’ll likely need to appoint a guardian to manage the funds and create restrictions on when they will receive the money, Brown said.

With more complex family situations, such as families with multiple children or blended families, estate planning can become more complicated, Francisco said. She recommends dividing up assets equally among beneficiaries in order to prevent resentment.

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