Planning Tips For The New Year

It's impossible to predict what the new year has in store for us, but if you follow some (or all) of these tips 2018 should bring you greater peace of mind.

UPDATE YOUR ESTATE PLAN

We've said it before, but as an estate planning firm dedicated to making sure your plan continues to address your needs and goals, we'll say it again: Don't let your plan become obsolete. It is vitally important to have us review your plan whenever changes have taken place in your life. Has your financial or medical situation changed since your plan was created? Have any of your children gotten divorced and remarried, or started families of their own? Do your beneficiary designations continue to reflect your wishes? Are all of your trusts properly funded? Your estate plan must take all of these issues, and more, into account for it to accomplish your goals. The fact is an outdated or improperly designed plan is often worse than having no plan at all. This is a great time of year to review your plan and make necessary changes.

Make sure your loved ones know you have a plan. You can have the best estate plan in the world but if nobody knows about it, or can't find it in an emergency, your plan isn't worth the paper it's printed on. We advise our clients to write a letter to loved ones informing them you have a plan and documenting important information such as:

  • The names and contact information of attorneys, wealth managers, bankers, CPAs, insurance agents, and other key advisors
  • The location of your planning documents, particularly your will, powers of attorney and advance directives
  • The location of financial information like bank accounts, pensions, IRAs, and insurance policies o Medical information including the names of your physicians, your insurance company, the medications you take, and your pharmacy

SHARE YOUR PASSWORDS

Chances are you have so many passwords it's almost impossible for you to keep track of them. Now's the time to make that master list with all your user names, passwords and security questions in one document, and to let your loved ones know where to find it.

REVIEW YOUR ASSET ALLOCATION

The start of the new year is an excellent time to reassess your investment portfolio to make sure your asset allocation is where it should be to accomplish your investment goals. Additionally, a stock, mutual fund or other investment that out-performed the market two years ago may not have done as well in 2017. If so, take a long, hard look at it. 

MAKE A DETAILED MONTHLY AND ANNUAL BUDGET

One of the greatest fears among retirees and seniors is outliving one's life savings. If you haven't done so already, create a detailed monthly and annual budget. If you already have a budget, be sure to update it to account for any changes in your income or unforeseen expenses.

TAKE A HOME INVENTORY FOR INSURANCE PURPOSES

What is the precise value of all the "stuff" you've accumulated over the years? If you're not sure, it's time to find out. Photograph your valuable belongings, organize and collect all the pertinent documentation about them, and have them professionally appraised. Then, be sure to update your property insurance.

START A CONVERSATION

Writing a letter to your loved ones informing them you have a plan is one thing. Talking to them about the details of your plan is another beast entirely. While such a conversation is infinitely more difficult than writing a letter, the rewards of doing so can be substantial. It is entirely possible that your children would like to know, for example, how you wish to be cared for in the event of incapacity. Similarly, your children may wonder about your financial situation. Is your house paid for, or are you carrying a mortgage that will need to be covered if you pass away suddenly? Have you created a will or trust, and if so, do your children stand to inherent any assets? Your children may be hesitant to ask questions such as these for fear of appearing greedy or insensitive. Yet they may also need this information to do proper estate planning of their own.

We understand how difficult it is to begin conversations of this nature and can help you find the best ways to broach them with your loved ones. Experience tells us that families who are able to open up in this manner draw closer together and feel a sense of relief afterwards. We welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter with you.

Protecting A Child's Inheritance

A number of our clients have expressed concern about protecting the inheritances of their children. Sometimes, they worry about the security of a child's job and what will happen if he or she loses that job in a tough economy, cannot pay bills, and loses the inheritance to creditors. Other times, they worry about the influence sons or daughters-in-law have over their children, and what would happen if their child got divorced. Some parents wonder if their children are mature enough to handle an inheritance and if they can make sound, long-term decisions on their own. Fortunately, there are a number of ways for you to leave an inheritance to your children and protect that inheritance against threats such as these and more. In addition to their ability to avoid probate and minimize taxes, trusts are some of the most effective tools to protect your children's inheritances. Here are a few examples.

DISCRETIONARY TRUSTS

With these types of trusts, the trustee has complete discretion to determine trust distributions and the beneficiary cannot demand distributions. The settlor of the trust can provide guidance about distributions and withhold distributions if a child is facing divorce, bankruptcy and/or personal problems that may impact his or her ability to manage the inheritance wisely. In addition, creditors cannot access trust assets.

SUPPORT TRUSTS

In the case of a support trust, the trustee is required to make distributions for health, education, support, or maintenance to the beneficiary if so desired by the beneficiary. Only certain creditors, known as "super creditors," can access the trust assets. Examples include child support/alimony payments, claims for services that "protected, preserved or enhanced the beneficiary's interest," and state/federal government debts such as tax liens.

SPENDTHRIFT TRUSTS

These trusts prevent the beneficiary from voluntarily or involuntarily transferring his or her interest in the trust and protect trust assets from most creditors, excluding the super creditors described above. If you are concerned about protecting your children's inheritance against threats posed by creditors, predators, or even their own poor decisions, we can structure your estate plan to provide the level of protection ideal for your particular situation.