In order to prepare a plan that works, we recommend the following Three Step Strategy TM :
- Step 1: Develop your plan with counseling oriented planning partners.
- Step 2: Commit yourself and your family to a formal and continuous maintenance and education program.
- Step 3: Secure appropriate assistance for you and your family to transfer your wisdom along with the rest of your wealth.
Step 1 – Counseling and Collaboration.
An estate plan is like a set of babysitter instructions. Most of us are prone to write fairly comprehensive instructions about how our children are to be cared for while we are away. Their welfare and protection is our primary concern. The length of the instructions is usually directly proportional to the length of time we plan to be away.
Our instructions can change from week to week, and month to month, too. That’s because our children grow and have different needs as time goes by.
The only thing we leave out of our instructions, though, is what’s supposed to happen if we don’t come home!
Making decisions about how your wisdom and your financial wealth should be transferred in the ways that will protect your loved ones can be difficult if you don’t know your options. That’s where counseling comes in.
It’s not all about taxes, though. For example:
- When is it OK for your money to be divided up if your loved ones get divorced? If there is a way to give them access and practical control over the money and keep it out of assets divided in a divorce, isn’t that worth talking about?
- When is it OK for the money you leave for your loved ones to end up in the hands of their creditors? If there is a way to make the property available to your loved ones, but inaccessible to their creditors, isn’t that worth talking about?
- When is it OK for your surviving spouse to be victimized by an attractive and personable predator? If there is a way to protect both your money and your spouse’s money from being lost to someone like that, isn’t it worth talking about?
If you’d like to find out more about the specifics involved in our counseling, we urge you to sign up for our Truth About Estate Planning class and watch Designing A Plan That Works TM. This video presentation contains important information you’ll need to prepare for your planning process.
Our counseling process is the Heritage Estate Planning Process TM. It consists of an exploration phase, a design phase, an implementation phase and a maintenance phase. We focus on counseling and educating clients throughout the process.
We have the experience and expertise to help you sharpen your vision of what you want to do, to help you choose from the options and strategies that best meet your goals, and to help you and the people involved in your planning understand how your plan will work.
We often find that our clients are also in need of the help of a qualified financial advisor. Legal counseling can often turn up financial issues to be addressed, so if we work in a legal vacuum we’re not helping you achieve your goals. Collaborating with qualified advisors is an important key to successful planning. We are prepared to collaborate with your advisors to make sure your planning decisions integrate fully with your financial plans.
For some advisors, collaboration ends when you are referred out to another professional. Our view is that successful planning requires all of your advisors to work as a team to help you achieve your goals. Our experience tells us that you get geometrically better planning that way.
Our Heritage Design Partners Program is designed to train our professional colleagues in the principles of collaboration and process integration for the benefit of our mutual clients. Collegial relationships between the other members of your professional team can go a long way to making your planning both successful and fulfilling.
Step 2 – A Commitment to a Formal and Continuous Maintenance and Education Program.
Nothing is more sure in life than the reality that things will change. If your estate plan is like a set of instructions, adaptation to meet changes in your life, and in the lives of your loved ones is essential. A plan that’s out of date won’t achieve your goals and expectations – in other words, it won’t work!
Keeping your plan up to date is also the best way to minimize the cost of your planning. Typically, lawyers will tell you to come back in 3 to 5 years to do a plan review, but most people don’t. When they do, they often find they have to start all over, and pay the same fee…again!
It’s important to focus on the cost of your estate planning:
- The cost “up front” for counseling and design,
- The cost of keeping the plan up to date, and
- The cost of estate settlement.
The notoriously high cost of estate settlement is often the result of several problems:
- The assets are not titled in a way that lines up with the plan. The result is that the family and the lawyers have to discover the property that the decedent owned. Much of estate settlement is a “re-titling” process, so if you don’t know where everything is it takes a lot more time and effort (translation: a lot more expense) to get the job done.
- The failure to adapt to changes in the law or the personal and financial circumstance of the decedent and his or her family. A plan designed to give full control to a beneficiary who later becomes deeply in debt or incompetent can be a disaster of family conflict and discord. When the law changes in a way that affects your estate plan, you often won’t know about it until it’s too late!
- A lack of education. If your loved ones don’t know what they are supposed to do when they have a role to play, the most expensive tutor available is your lawyer! When your helpers and successors understand what’s supposed to happen and what they are supposed to do, things go much more smoothly, and the stress of the transition can be substantially reduced. Also, if your successors (beneficiaries) don’t know why you made the decisions you made, the tendency is to try to unwind your plan to suit their individual needs and expectations.
Our Step 2 Program TM is designed to deal with these risks and to reduce the cost – and the emotional trauma – of settling your estate by providing annual reviews of how you own your assets, by educating you and your helpers and successors, and by regular updates to your documents.
Step 3: Secure appropriate assistance for you and your family to transfer your wisdom along with the rest of your wealth.
Your helpers should know what’s supposed to happen, who is available to help them, how to pay for professional services, and how much to pay for their services.
When our clients establish their plans with the Heritage Estate Planning Process TM and commit themselves and their loved ones to maintaining their plans through the Step 2 Program TM we offer estate settlement services at a cost that is substantially below the normal cost of estate settlement services. How can we do that?
- Since our clients have carefully considered their options and made informed decisions in the Heritage Estate Planning TM Process, their planning is more aligned with the personal needs and circumstances of their beneficiaries.
- Since our clients have regularly updated their plans, their instructions are well-aligned with the law and the personal circumstances of their beneficiaries, who are eager to follow the client’s instructions.
- Since our clients’ helpers and successors are well educated, they know what needs to be done and how to pay for it.
- Since we know what our clients own and how it’s titled through the Step 2 Program TM, we don’t have to spend time, energy and money finding out what you own and how it should be valued.