Is estate planning only needed by the rich?

To some, the term estate planning conjures up images of mansions and luxury, so why can’t “regular people” afford to ignore it?

 

Note: I am NOT an attorney! These are my observations and understanding as a financial planner helping clients work with attorneys to address their needs. If you need a good estate planner, talk to my professional colleagues Brad Wiewel, Jeff Harris, or Dick Brown.

If you have a non-existent, incomplete, or outdated estate plan, you are not alone. Working with estate planning attorneys to create or update a new client’s estate plan is common. Many of them had never thought about the issues a good plan solves, believed that it could simply be taken care of by a spouse who knew their desires, or thought that estate planning was too expensive.

So why do I often recommend my clients go through the estate planning process? A good plan can help many people:

  • Minimize the cost and effort to transfer assets. With the federal estate tax threshold over $5M in 2014, a lot fewer of my clients now need to address large tax bills when they pass away. However, costly and time-confusing complications can occur if asset accounts are titled improperly and/or if assets are owned in more than one state.
  • Keep their financial lives private. In some cases during the probate process here in Texas, an “inventory” of assets must be filed and becomes public record. Widows can become targets for con artists. Living trusts and other tools can help keep a lot more information private!
  • Retain control. If you die without a will, the state of Texas’ own rules determine how property gets distributed, determining guardianship for children, and many other decisions. Unintended consequences can happen!

Often an ounce of “estate planning attorney prevention” is worth a pound of “post-mortem legal fees”. Having helped my mother go through this process when my father passed away in 1997, I can attest to that!

FYI – At the beginning of 2014, the old Texas Probate Code was replaced by the “Texas Estates Code”. Though most of the changes are minor, it is not a bad idea to get a checkup on your plan now!