I am an estate planner by profession, and an all-around planner at home. To be called a planner in all senses of the word is a badge I wear with pride. I even have an estate plan. Just not an up-to-date one. What?!?
That’s right, I confess. I have not updated my estate plan since our second child was born, and yet this is what I do as my profession! I work with clients who span three generations in age, from families just starting out in their late 20s or early 30s to the 90-something year old who has met his or her great-grandchildren. And, from this, I know I am not alone in passing over my estate planning for more pressing items on the to-do list.
So now that you know we’re in this together, I’ll share with you my answers to three common questions I am often asked about estate planning: “When do I need to do my own estate plan?” “Should I have a trust?” and “Should I talk to my kids about this kind of stuff?”
WHEN SHOULD I DO MY ESTATE PLAN?
Even if you have done nothing, it turns out you do have an estate plan—it just might not be to your liking. California’s “intestate succession” laws (i.e. a fancy way of saying you do not have a Will) dictate who gets what if you do not have a Will or trust in place at your death. Aside from the fact that a one-size-fits-all plan is rarely the right answer, this off-the-shelf plan may have unexpected results. For example, California is a community property state and the California intestate succession laws distribute your community property differently than your separate property, if you have not specified for yourself.
Overwhelmingly, clients affirmatively do something about their estate plans just before or after big life cycle moments – an upcoming marriage or the end of the relationship, the birth of a child, or the death of a parent or spouse. Understandably, these are all reasonable transition moments where our wishes for what should happen if we are not around are placed front and center and we are forced to confront whether our affairs are in order. Estate planning, though, is not a one-and-done activity. Our lives are constantly evolving, the relationships with our family, friends and advisors are changing, and so a periodic 3-5 year check-in on your estate plan is a healthy interval to keep in mind.
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