Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Lifetime of Planning

     Many perceive estate planning as a tool older, wealthy individuals use to protect their assets. While estate planning offers clear benefits to the very wealthy, a better explanation of estate planning is that it is a lifetime process with different benefits for people of different ages and situations. Many of my clients are surprised when I suggest that the most appropriate time to begin the estate planning process is when a person reaches age eighteen.
     When children reach eighteen, they are legal adults  under Michigan law, and their parents no longer have the authority to make legal and medical decisions on their behalf. By beginning the estate planning process at this time, the newly designated adult can execute a Durable Power of Attorney and Patient Advocate Designation that allow parents to continue to make legal and medical decisions in the event of incapacity. This initial step of estate planning introduces young adults to an attorney and provides them (and their parents) with peace of mind knowing that mom and dad can still help them if needed
     As these young adults move through the next few years, complete their education, join the workforce, and begin to accumulate assets, the estate plan that started with only lifetime documents protecting on incapacity then expands to include a simple Will. At this time the client learns about the probate process and begins to understand how proper planning will make things easier for their loved ones should something happen to them. It also helps to remind the young adult of their own mortality and the importance of preparing for the future.
     As the client marries and starts a family,  their planning expands at the same time as the family. Wills become more complex and include guardianship provisions to protect minor children. Additionally, the attorney-client relationship grows, giving the client access to the attorney's advice regarding employment issues, assistance in starting businesses, and referrals to financial advisors.
     As a married couple’s assets and family continue to grow, at a certain point it will make sense to include a Living Trust in their estate plan. By this time, the couple has experience with their attorney and with estate planning. They are equipped to understand the benefits of expanding their estate plan. From this point forward, as the client’s life changes, their long-standing relationship with their estate planning attorney provides them the opportunity to learn about more advanced techniques if those techniques are relevant to their personal and financial situation.
     When a client treats estate planning as a lifetime process, the client develops a sense of the importance of estate planning at various stages of their life. It can also provide a peace of mind that loved ones are protected in the event of unexpected illness or death.  By establishing a relationship with professionals while they are still young these clients can avoid expensive mistakes in the future.
     For planning to be successful, both the client and the attorney must be engaged in the process on the long-term basis. If either the attorney or the client treats estate planning as a "one-time event", long-term benefits and protection of estate planning will be missing. If both the client and the attorney are proactive in developing the relationship, the client will enjoy the benefits of the long-term planning and the protection and peace of mind that goes with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome and appreciate your comments but remind you that while not all viewpoints are equally respectable, all people should be treated with respect. The authors do not actively moderate comments but reserve the right to remove comments that are offensive, derogatory, or contain spam.