The Legacy Planning Series: Asset Distribution and Estate Planning - Securing Your Wishes
In the first installment of our Legacy Planning Series, we covered the importance of planning for incapacity and getting organized. Now, we move on to the more complex aspects of legacy planning: asset distribution and estate planning. In this segment, we'll explore decision-making around "who gets what," account titling, beneficiary designations, and estate planning strategies to ensure your wishes are met and assets are distributed according to your preferences.
Step 3: Deciding "Who Gets What"
Determining the distribution of your assets can be challenging and may lead to familial conflicts. It's often best to keep these decisions confidential, sharing them only with your legal and wealth management teams and a trustee or designated third-party representative. As you work through the distribution process, consider the following questions:
- What happens if my spouse passes before me?
- Are my children mature enough to handle a sudden windfall?
- What charitable organizations do I want to support?
- What are the tax implications of inheritance, and how can I minimize that burden?
- Do you want to allocate specific possessions to individual parties or distribute the estate exclusively based on monetary value?
- Do you have a special needs child or beneficiary who might lose benefits if they receive a large inheritance?
These are just a few examples of the questions you'll need to consider. Consult with your legal team for a more comprehensive list and personalized guidance.
Step 4: Estate Planning Strategies
Once you've made preliminary decisions about asset distribution, it's time to create enforceable legal documentation to ensure your wishes are met after your passing. Collaborate closely with your legal and wealth management teams, and consider the following estate planning strategies:
Some accounts, such as banking and brokerage accounts, allow for different titling options that automatically trigger actions upon your death. The most common and secure option is to designate an account as joint with rights of survivorship (joint WROS). A joint WROS account reverts wholly to the surviving owner if the other owner dies.
Retirement and investment accounts often allow you to designate specific beneficiaries. Upon your death, the transfer of assets to the beneficiary is triggered. Beneficiaries should be designated for all accounts, even joint ones, to ensure a smooth transition of assets in various circumstances. Designated beneficiaries may also help assets bypass probate proceedings in some cases, regardless of the stipulations outlined in your will.
Communication with Wealth Managers
Make sure your wealth manager is informed of the network of beneficiaries you establish across accounts. Ideally, create a concise list of contacts for the team to facilitate quick communication if the beneficiaries aren't local.
Covering Your Bases
In some cases, account titling and beneficiary management, along with a basic will, may be sufficient for your estate planning needs. However, it's always best to consult with your wealth manager and an estate attorney to ensure your decisions are ironclad and all legal requirements are met.
In this installment of our Legacy Planning Series, we've covered the intricacies of asset distribution and estate planning. By addressing these critical aspects, you'll further solidify your comprehensive legacy plan. Next, we’ll look at legacy management and the best way to ensure your estate plan stays relevant over time.