Estate Planning: What Really Matters?

By Marty Kurtz, CFP®, Retired Founder of The Planning Center, Inc.

So often, in a financial planning meeting, I will ask a client, “Do you have an Estate Plan?” Or my question may be, “Is your Estate Plan done?”  I find that the questions themselves start to lead us down an errant path.

Asking the question, “Do you have it done?” takes us in the wrong direction. For many people, it conjures up the mental image of a notebook with tabs separating the many pages in it. It is a notebook into which many dollars may have been invested. The notebook, when complete, becomes what we/they call “an Estate Plan.”

However, the real question from clients should be “is that raft of documents ‘The Plan?’” I would like to open the discussion by saying “yes.” Those documents do comprise a part of The Plan. Nevertheless, Estate Planning documents are incomplete on their own.

There is another part, a bigger part of Estate Plans, in my eyes. It is the meat on the bones, so to speak. That notebook, and documents in it, are what make up only the skeleton of the plan. Those bones represent just the framework.

What we should be calling “the legal documents of the plan,” or “the structure of the plan,” we often call “the Plan.” Unfortunately, it is not. A real Estate Plan revolves around the thoughts and the conversations about who is empowered in the documents, what their job is, when does their job start, when does it end, and why they are empowered.

Too often, names are simply plugged into Estate Planning documents. The appropriate conversations are: a) never held, or b) not recorded or documented, or c) not passed on. Sometimes Estate Planning documents are new, and sometimes they are decades old.

Things can end up being mishandled if the people listed in the documents:

  • are not aware of the duties they will have
  • are unable to perform the specific duties called for
  • or do not understand the purpose underlying the instructions of the plan

Consequently, such complications can make for a very frustrating and time-consuming (not to mention expensive) proposition.

As we know, things change. People grow older. People marry and divorce. Our health changes. Our opinions change. People move away. People fall into and out of favor. People fall into and out of love. All of these and more may be reasons for a change in the Plan.

After all, we are talking about your money and the legacy that you will be leaving. We all want our lives (and our estates) to be a blessing to the world, not a source of drudgery and pain. I think it is our responsibility to leave this world with the least amount of chaos as possible.

Estate Planning is a valuable tool. We are given this tool, this opportunity, to put things  together in orderly fashion before we leave this world, or are unable to deal with stuff on our own anymore. Getting the right documents in place is a good thing. So is having a conversation with the right people to make sure the meat is really hung on the bones.

Your Estate Plan should work today and continue working into the future. It should work in many different circumstances to your exact specifications. In addition, you should review it often with a third party to see if what you really want is what is currently in place.

We live in a changing world; there is no doubt. We work for a lifetime accumulating stuff, but we spend far too little time planning, conversing, and communicating what our needs are. We don’t spend nearly enough time conveying what our thoughts and desires are before that time when we least can share them–in disability or death.

It is your money and your family, so it’s your responsibility! Just as every business needs a succession plan, having a personal succession plan is a smart thing to do, too. So is having the important conversations on how your loved ones will manage in the future if you are no longer here or able to help!

Review your Estate Plan today.  Ask your Planning Center advisor lot of questions about your plan. If you need to make changes, get them done. It will make the world a better place and it may protect you from an unpleasant result in the future.

The Planning Center is a fee-only financial planning and wealth management firm. Contact us today.