The Guide to Legacy Planning
Death and taxes – as the old saying goes, neither can be avoided. Furthermore, few are eager to talk about, or even consider, the prospect of either. Both carry significant financial implications, and poor planning (or no planning) today means an increased burden down the road. However, unlike taxes, death is far less predictable. Considering the ramifications of underplanning your legacy – stress for your loved ones, loss of wealth and capital you worked for, and worse – is far more painful than putting together a comprehensive plan and reviewing it annually.
A Tale of Three Legacies
To understand the importance of legacy planning, let's explore real-life scenarios. Although our three examples are on the extreme ends of the spectrum, they illustrate what can go wrong (or right) when planning your legacy.
Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, died young at 47. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007, he had a prognosis of just a few months. Armed with this knowledge, Randy rapidly got his affairs in order to spend as much quality time as possible with loved ones. His famous Last Lecture series, later turned into a book, imparts wisdom to his children, creating a lasting legacy. Randy's story is a prime example of proactive legacy planning when facing a terminal situation.
James Gandolfini, of Sopranos fame, suddenly died while traveling through Italy. His estate and legacy planning proved inadequate, which proved disastrous for his remaining family. Despite dividing his estate among his family, the IRS seized nearly half of the $70M estate in taxes. Avoidable through a straightforward trust management system, the estate also went into probate, further diminishing the net distributions to his family.
Jean Paul Getty's family affairs caused significant public intrigue. His will, with 21 amendments, led to a decades-long legal battle amongst heirs that continues in part today. The immediate aftermath involved numerous attorneys, negotiations, court documents, and millions of dollars in legal fees.
While these stories may not directly apply to your situation, they offer valuable lessons for legacy planning:
- Comprehensive legacy planning, done early, ensures your family and estate are properly accounted for in the event of sudden death.
- If terminal illness or other poor prognosis gives you an idea of when you'll pass, prior planning means you maximize that time with family rather than dealing with wealth managers, notaries, and legal teams during your last days.
- When planning, simplicity is key. Overplanning can cause complications, and a competent team can help draft a comprehensive plan with little need for constant adjustments, except for extraordinary life changes and periodic reviews.
Next Up: In our second installment, we'll dive into the essential steps to prepare for incapacity, ensuring your family and assets are protected in case of unexpected medical emergencies and some recommended ways you can get organized to save time and headache when planning a legacy.
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