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Estate Planning

About Estate Planning

Your estate is comprised of everything you own - your car, home, other real estate, checking & savings accounts, investments, life insurance, furniture, personal possessions, etc. No matter how large or how modest, everyone has an estate and something in common - you can’t take it with you when you die.

When that happens and it is a “when” and not an “if” you probably want to control how those things are given to the people or organizations you care most about. To ensure your wishes are carried out, you need to provide instructions stating whom you want to receive something of yours, what you want them to receive, and when they are to receive it. You will, of course, want this to happen with the least amount paid in taxes, legal fees, and court costs.

That is estate planning - making a plan in advance and naming whom you want to receive the things you own after you die. However, good estate planning is much more than that. It should also:

  • Include instructions for passing your values (religion, education, hard work, etc.)    in addition to your valuables.
  • Include instructions for your care if you become disabled before you die.
  • Name a guardian and an inheritance manager for minor children.
  • Provide for family members with special needs without disrupting government    benefits.
  • Provide for loved ones who might be irresponsible with money or who may need    future protection from creditors or divorce.
  • Include life insurance to provide for your family at your death, disability income    insurance to replace your income if you cannot work due to illness or injury, and    long-term care insurance to help pay for your care in case of an extended illness or    injury.
  • Provide for the transfer of your business at your retirement, disability, or death.
  • Minimize taxes, court costs, and unnecessary legal fees.
  • Be an ongoing process, not a one-time event. Your plan should be reviewed and   updated as your family and financial situations (and laws) change over your    lifetime.

Estate Planning Is For Everyone

It is not just for “retired” people, although people do tend to think about it more as they get older. Unfortunately, we can’t successfully predict how long we will live, and illness and accidents happen to people of all ages.

Estate planning is not just for “the wealthy,” either, although people who have built some wealth do often think more about how to preserve it. Good estate planning often means more to families with modest assets, because they can afford to lose the least.

Too many people don’t plan

Individuals put off estate planning because they think they don’t own enough, they’re not old enough, they’re busy, think they have plenty of time, they’re confused and don’t know who can help them, or they just don’t want to think it. Then, when something happens to them, their families have to pick up the pieces.

If you don’t have a plan, your state has one for you, but you probably won’t like it

At disability: If your name is on the title of your assets and you can’t conduct business due to mental or physical incapacity, only a court appointee can sign for you. The court, not your family, will control how your assets are used to care for you through a conservatorship or guardianship (depending on the term used in your state). It can become expensive and time consuming, it is open to the public, and it can be difficult to end even if you recover.

At your death: If you die without an intentional estate plan, your assets will be distributed according to the probate laws in your state. In many states, if you are married and have children, your spouse and children will each receive a share. That means your spouse could receive only a fraction of your estate, which may not be enough to live on. If you have minor children, the court will control their inheritance. If both parents die (i.e., in a car accident), the court will appoint a guardian without knowing whom you would have chosen.

Given the choice - and you do have the choice - wouldn’t you prefer these matters be handled privately by your family, not by the courts? Wouldn’t you prefer to keep control of who receives what and when? And, if you have young children, wouldn’t you prefer to have a say in who will raise them if you can’t?

An estate plan begins with a will or living trust

A will provides your instructions, but it does not avoid probate. Any assets titled in your name or directed by your will must go through your state’s probate process before they can be distributed to your heirs. (If you own property in other states, your family will probably face multiple probates, each one according to the laws in that state.) The process varies greatly from state to state, but it can become expensive with legal fees, executor fees, and court costs. It can also take anywhere from nine months to two years or longer. With rare exception, probate files are open to the public and excluded heirs are encouraged to come forward and seek a share of your estate. In short, the court system, not your family, controls the process.

Not everything you own will go through probate. Jointly-owned property and assets that let you name a beneficiary (for example, life insurance, annuities, etc.) are not controlled by your will and usually will transfer to the new owner or beneficiary without probate. But there are many problems with joint ownership, and avoidance of probate is not guaranteed. For example, if a valid beneficiary is not named, the assets will have to go through probate and will be distributed along with the rest of your estate. If you name a minor as a beneficiary, the court will probably insist on a guardianship until the child legally becomes an adult.

For these reasons a revocable living trust is preferred by many families and professionals. It can avoid probate at death (including multiple probates if you own property in other states), prevent court control of assets at incapacity, bring all of your assets (even those with beneficiary designations) together into one plan, provide maximum privacy, is valid in every state, and can be changed by you at any time. It can also reflect your love and values to your family and future generations.

Unlike a will, a trust doesn’t have to die with you. Assets can stay in your trust, managed by the trustee you selected, until your beneficiaries reach the age you want them to inherit. Your trust can continue longer to provide for a loved one with special needs, or to protect the assets from beneficiaries’ creditors, spouses, and irresponsible spending.

A living trust is more expensive initially than a will, but considering it can avoid court interference at incapacity and death; many people consider it to be a bargain.

Planning your estate will help you organize your records and correct titles and beneficiary designations

Would your family know where to find your financial records, titles, and insurance policies if something happened to you? Planning your estate now will help you organize your records, locate titles and beneficiary designations, and find and correct errors.

Most people don’t give much thought to the wording they put on titles and beneficiary designations. You may have good intentions, but an innocent error can create all kinds of problems for your family at your disability and/or death. Beneficiary designations are often out-of-date or otherwise invalid. Naming the wrong beneficiary on your tax-deferred plan can lead to devastating tax consequences. It is much better for you to take the time to do this correctly now than for your family to pay an attorney to try to fix things later.

Estate planning does not have to be expensive

If you don’t think you can afford a complex estate plan now, start with what you can afford. For a young family or single adult, that may mean a will, term life insurance, and powers of attorney for your assets and health care decisions. Then, let your planning develop and expand as your needs change and your financial situation improves. Don’t try to do this yourself to save money. An experienced attorney in our Finapian team will be able to provide critical guidance and peace of mind that your documents are prepared properly.

The best time to plan your estate is now

None of us really likes to think about our own mortality or the possibility of being unable to make decisions for ourselves. This is exactly why so many families are caught off-guard and unprepared when incapacity or death does strike. Don’t wait. You can put something in place now and change it later…which is exactly the way estate planning should be done.

The best benefit is peace of mind

Knowing you have a properly prepared plan in place - one that contains your instructions and will protect your family - Will give you and your family peace of mind. This is one of the most thoughtful and considerate things you can do for yourself and for those you love.

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How To Get Started

Figuring out how to pull your finances together and make a sound financial plan can be daunting at first. Here's an overview of how we can help you design a secure financial future, as well as some tips for protecting your money.

SETTING FINANCIAL GOALS:

What's the most expensive thing you'll ever buy in your lifetime? The answer probably isn't a big-ticket item like a new TV, car or home. When you put money into a retirement nest egg, you're "buying" your retirement. Given Social Security's uncertain future, longer life expectancies and decreasing employer contributions, planning for this major expense is more complicated than it was a generation ago.

You can afford to retire comfortably if you develop a solid plan and make smart choices along the way. Regardless of your income, we can help you:

  • Calculate your net worth
  • Avoid financial setbacks
  • Deal with major life changes
  • Avoid debt and credit problems
  • Decide where to put your money

Today, there are an overwhelming number of choices for saving and investing your money, and we can help you navigate those options. Creating a robust, realistic plan will help you stay on track to have the retirement you want.

TIPS FOR SUCCESS:

You are ultimately in charge of your finances, and the results you get from working with us depend on your commitment and understanding of the process. These tips can help you avoid some common mistakes and get the most out of financial planning:

  • Set measurable financial goals
  • Create specific targets for what you want to achieve and when you want to see results. Everyone wants to be "comfortable" in retirement and see their children attend "good" schools—but what do you mean by comfortable and good? Clear goals are easier to aim for and measure.

  • Understand the effects of each financial decision
  • Remember, each piece of your financial life is part of a larger puzzle. For example, an investment decision may have tax consequences that are harmful to your estate plans. Or a decision about your child's education may affect when and how you meet your retirement goals. Your financial decisions are inter-related.

  • Re-evaluate your financial situation periodically
  • Financial planning is a dynamic process. Your financial goals may change over the years due to changes in your lifestyle or circumstances such as an inheritance, marriage, birth, house purchase or change of job status. Revisit and revise your financial plan as time goes by so you stay on track to meet your long-term goals.

  • Start planning as soon as you can
  • The earlier you begin, the more likely you are to achieve your financial goals. By developing good financial planning habits such as saving, budgeting, investing and regularly reviewing your finances, you will be better prepared to handle emergencies and life changes.

  • Be realistic in your expectations
  • Financial planning cannot change your situation overnight—it's a lifelong process. Remember that events beyond your control, such as inflation or changes in the stock market or interest rates, will affect your financial planning results.

  • Get help from a qualified expert
  • Just as you seek a doctor's expert opinion for medical issues, there are times when you need a qualified professional to provide financial planning advice. We can help you on your journey to a healthy financial future.

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Why Finapian

Our focus is on providing quality strategic financial advice to a small, select client base of successful individuals ~ primarily professionals, business owners and wealthy retirees.

We spend a lot of time getting to know our clients and are successful in building sound relationships with them. It is through this process that we learn about their broader goals and aspirations from which we take our cues on how to best manage and structure their financial affairs for the future.

We take great care in developing sound financial strategies. We examine a broad range of investment options and our final recommendations are designed to meet each individual strategy's desired financial outcomes. We take a very personalized approach and, just as no two clients share the same needs, circumstances and lifestyle aspirations, no two strategies that we develop are the same. All are individually tailored to suit each client. Understanding what is important to you and your family allows us to provide advice that is tailored to helping you achieve your goals and objectives. A key component of this advice is investment planning based on our investment philosophy.

INVESTMENT PHILOSOPHY:

Our approach to investment planning is underpinned by a number of key beliefs. We believe that:

  • diversification leads to more consistent outcomes;
  • a disciplined approach underpins successful investing;
  • risk and return are related;
  • investment decisions should largely be undertaken by experts; and
  • portfolios should be properly tailored based on client objectives and risk profile.

These beliefs are used to establish and review our clients’ portfolios.

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