Estate planning? How to make the most of your money

The Dallas Morning News published the following article in its Seniors section several years ago.  I thought it was good and worth reprinting here.

family_discussion(ARA) – When it comes to financial planning, making smart investments and planning for the future aren’t your only fiduciary considerations. You also want to be sure you’re getting the most out of the money you spend on the process.

Estate planning is an important component of your overall financial plan, regardless of your age, income or size of your estate. If you own property and have heirs, you need to think about estate planning. To do the job well, you’ll need the help of a team of professional accredited estate planners such as a certified public accountant, a lawyer, insurance professionals and financial planners, and trust officers.

Professional fees can add up if you don’t manage time well, so it’s important to prepare for every meeting with your estate planning team members. It’s a great time to think about how you can maximize the value of the time you spend with your estate planning team.

The National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC) offers this advice on how to have productive working relationships with your planners:

* Before meeting with a professional, gather all your personal and financial information, make lists of your current financial advisers, assets and liabilities, collect financial documents such as retirement plans, life insurance policies, property deeds, partnership and business agreements and your income tax returns for the past two years.

* Write out your own personal goals, concerns and ideas. Identify people whom you would like to have inherit your property when you die, and specify what you would like to leave each. Make note of any special needs or situations, such as a dependent child or a spouse whose disability will prevent him or her from working. Identify people you would like to name as guardian for minor children, as well as an executor for your will.

* Seek out the right professionals. You’ll find any number of people who profess to be estate planners, but NAEPC designees complete rigorous educational requirements for estate planning and adhere to a strict code of ethics. To find an accredited estate planner, visit the association’s website, www.estateplanninganswers.org.

* Bring your notes and all the information you’ve gathered with you to your meeting. Being prepared can save you hours of billable time. Discuss your overall goals and find out how each professional can help you meet them. Ask for a list of the specific documents he or she will prepare for you.

* Realize that estate planning is an ongoing process. You should update your estate plan every few years or any time you experience a major life change, such as the birth of a child, marriage, divorce or death of a spouse or parent.

* Finally, once you’ve prepared for your loved ones’ financial future, don’t forget to take care of their emotional well-being. Estate plan documents are dry and technical, and they won’t communicate your emotions to those you leave behind. Consider writing a letter to your spouse and family expressing your final thoughts and feelings. Keep the letter with key financial paperwork and make sure your loved ones know where to locate these items.

Common mistakes to avoid in estate planning:

1. Lack of planning.
2. Unorganized finances.
3. Not having a will, trusts and durable powers of attorney or advanced health care directive.
4. Having out-of-date estate plan documents.
5. Not coordinating life insurance and retirement plan beneficiaries and ownerships with estate plans.
6. Not coordinating property title holdings with estate plans.
7. Not having enough life insurance.
8. Procrastination.
9. Not telling people where your planning paperwork can be found.

If you need to update your estate plan, please feel free to call my office for an appointment.

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