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How Your Advisor Can Enhance Your Estate Plan

by Westray B. Veasey, J.D.

Developing an estate plan – one that actually operates like you intend – is a daunting task, and it does not end with an executed will.  That is just the beginning.  If you are like most people, when you got married or had your first child, you found an attorney through a friend and engaged him or her to draft a will that left your assets to your spouse and named a guardian for your minor children.  Then you put your will in a folder and did not look at it again until your wealth advisor asked if you had an estate plan, to which you responded “Yes, but it probably needs updating.”  Understatement.

An experienced and trusted estate planning attorney is essential to developing an estate plan.  Involving your wealth advisory team in your estate planning process ensures that your plan functions as it should.  When I was in private practice, my clients would ask me “How often do I need to update my estate plan?”  Typically, my answer was that they should review their plan every three to five years, or upon a significant life event or tax law change.  While some of my clients were diligent with their estate plan and contacted me for a review at appropriate times, many were not.  In most cases, clients meet with their wealth advisory team with relative frequency, and certainly more often than every three to five years.  Our service platform ensures we are involved in all aspects of our clients’ financial lives.  This includes ensuring their estate planning goals are accomplished.  Here are some ways that our advisory team can enhance your estate plan:

We know your assets, your concerns and your family.  

We are familiar with your goals and can help you define your estate planning objectives prior to meeting with an attorney.  For example, you may have a desire to pass on a business or vacation home, a charitable objective, or a desired level of support for your beneficiaries. You may seek to address the financial immaturity of a beneficiary, or make education funding a priority in your plan.  We also have the ability to gather and share pertinent information that your attorney will require to develop your plan, such as a balance sheet, beneficiary designations, and a family tree.  Additionally, we know when relevant laws, your assets or your life circumstances change, and we can prompt you to update your plan accordingly.

We have expertise. 

If you currently have an estate plan, it likely fits in a one to two inch binder.  We can boil your plan down to several summary pages, explain how your current plan works and provide you with a list of likely updates and potential strategies for you and your attorney to consider.  If you are reworking your plan and have been given 100+ pages of draft documents to review, we can review them with you and make sure the plan is drafted according to your intentions.

We attend to details and hold you accountable.    

Your attorney will give you a list of follow up actions required to ensure your plan is properly implemented after your documents are signed.  Often, because of complexity, costs, and time constraints, clients don’t do what their attorneys have recommended.  If your assets are not titled to coordinate with your perfectly drafted estate planning documents, your goals may not be met.  For example, if your sole asset is a joint investment account titled with survivorship with your spouse, it will pass to your spouse upon your death and not fund that trust you and your attorney labored over.  We can help update your asset titling and beneficiary designations to align with your plan and to avoid unnecessary costs and inefficiencies of administration.

We know attorneys. 

Estate planning strategies often require the input of the client’s wealth advisory team to ensure cash flow, tax implications, charitable objectives and family dynamics are considered.  As such, we frequently partner with the estate planning attorney to ensure the client’s unique circumstances are reflected in their plan.   And through years of experience working with estate planning attorneys in your community, we can help you find a qualified estate planning attorney if you need one.

We are a fiduciary.

We certainly can serve as executor or trustee under your estate plan, but even if you don’t need a corporate fiduciary, we understand the responsibilities of a fiduciary and can explain them to you.  This will help you select the right fiduciaries under your plan and ensure that the provisions governing their role are consistent with your desires.  For example, if you want your trustee to favor the needs of your spouse over those of your adult children, you will need to spell that out in your trust document.

While developing (and monitoring) an estate plan that meets your goals can be daunting, it does not have to be.  Our team can help explain your estate plan, aid in its implementation and keep it current.