Wealth Transfer or Wealth Reception – Part #1

You might ask yourself:  How do you define a successful estate plan?  or How do you define a successful life?

I help clients carry out the goals they have for themselves and their families. However, I always want to make sure clients have developed goals with a full understanding of what all can be accomplished with good planning. Sometimes they limit themselves and don’t explore some of the most important planning issues, until I prompt them to think a little broader.

Traditionally, many planning issues have focused only on the transfer of wealth. But most of us would probably agree that just avoiding probate or saving some tax money is not all that is required to have lived a succesful life. Isn’t there more to life than that? And there’s more to estate planning too.

There are so many more issues that clients want to address, once they hear about the possibilities. I think a good plan will carry out the goals you would have completed during your life, with enough time and resources. But since our time on earth is limited, we plan so our influence can continue.

1. If you could plan in a way that would protect your loved ones from risk or harm, would you be interested in hearing more about it?

2. If you could plan in a way that would set up your loved ones for greater success in the future, would you be interested in hearing more about it?

3. Is the focus of a plan simply to transfer the wealth, or to help that wealth accomplish the greatest good in our families and in the community?

4. What is money worth, except for what it can accomplish?

5. What could your money accomplish in those who survive you? Those you care the most about?

6. If you could communicate your wisdom, and your loved ones would apply it, what frustrations could you spare them?

7. What if you were able to transfer both your wisdom and your wealth, in what ways could that benefit those who survive you? How would it be better than just transferring one or the other?

How to pick an estate attorney – 4 questions to ask

Here are the questions I want any client to ask before they hire Edwards Group LLC to complete their estate plan.

1. Is this the right law firm for you? (We’re not for everyone because we do things quite a bit differently than most attorneys.)

2. Are you the right client for us? We are picky about our clients, who we expect to become clients for life.

3. Is this the right time for you? Plan when you believe in it and are ready to invest your time and energy (and money) to do it right.

4. Do you clearly understand the fees? We are up front and quote flat fees before we start so we can dig into the planning without any more thoughts or worries about what it may cost.

Will your estate attorney outlive you?

Interesting article in State Journal-Register yesterday. Percentage of attorneys in Illinois who are are between 50-74 years old went from 22% in 1993 to 39% in 2008.

http://www.sj-r.com/homepage/x2085729714/Number-of-lawyers-over-age-50-climbs?view=print

Fairly often, I hear new clients tell me they were looking for someone “younger than they are” to be around to handle their estate and help the family after they’re gone. I don’t market myself that way, but I guess it makes sense.

9 Ways to Cause a Dispute After You Die – Probate and Trust Administration Nightmares

Often we get calls from someone who is facing a mess because a loved one died and failed to plan properly. So, my advice is this: If you want to create a mess for your family, don’t leave it to chance. Do it right and plan the mess yourself.

Here are 9 ways you can create a mess after you die…

1. Don’t organize your assets. Assume that what you own will fit in with your legal documents. Somehow, by accident, it will work out.

2. Don’t talk about what you are planning to do. Your wife and your kids (maybe from a previous marriage) can both assume they knew what you wanted. Leave it vague enough so no one really knows, and there is certainly no legal guidance for them. Also be sure to keep your financial situation secret, from your kids and even your wife. They don’t need to know yet.

3. Name an executor or trustee without much thought. Just name the obvious choice, regardless of their track record for honesty or handling money. Even though trustees sometimes run off with the money or mishandle investments, that probably won’t happen to you. Even though the person you chose has never shown themselves to be up to such a task, they will step up and do fine. Right? And certainly don’t ask yourself one of the best questions – “would I trust this person with my checkbook today, while I’m still alive?

4. Don’t pay for professional legal advice. Just do it yourself. Type up (or hand write) your own trust or will. Fill out those IRA beneficiary forms, and even customize them yourself without knowing the law. It’ll work out somehow.

5. Make promises to family members about what you plan to leave them. Then don’t do it that way. They will understand. I’m sure they won’t want to fight in court about whether your wishes were written down wrong or whether you were in your right mind. They will understand that you didn’t keep your promise.

6. Talk about your estate in vague terms. Say things to your wife like, “you will be taken care of” and “you won’t want for anything.” Say things to your kids like, “you will be treated fairly.” Don’t talk specifics, but just talk about generalities, so the people listening to you can
assume what they want to about what you plan to leave to them.

7. Don’t use a professional trustee such as a bank. You don’t want to spend money on something like that, where a professional will know how to get the job done and make sure that your wishes are carried out in a way that’s legal and proper. Much better to leave it to friends or family members who may not exactly know what they’re doing, incurring extra taxes or making messes that need to be cleaned up later.

8. Use your plan to give the family chances to learn to get along better. Create your plan in a way that creates conflict among your loved ones. For instance, name your spouse and a kid from a prior marriage as co-trustees. I’m sure they’ll get along well enough to be able to sort out your estate.

9. Name a family member as a trustee of the funds you leave behind for someone else. Put your trustee in a difficult situation after your death where they have to refuse to give some of your money to another family member, particularly when it’s someone from the other side of the family. And be sure not to give clear guidance about when and how that person should be able to access funds. This will put the maximum pressure on the trustee and increase the hard feelings of the person asking for the money. No matter how the trustee decides, someone will feel either mistreated or pressured.

We are obviously being sarcastic. Sometimes the lack of planning we see can be really frustrating! I’d much rather the Probate/Trust Administration part of our firm not exist. (This is the part of our team that handles issues after someone dies.) Ideally, everyone would do effective planning ahead of time. I say it all the time — bad estate planning breaks up good families.

If you want to be sure none of the above happens to your loved ones, we encourage you to take action today. It’s easy to put this off! But it’s hard (and expensive) to clean up the mess afterwards — and that will be left to your grieving loved ones. What a legacy…

So, give us a call today at 217-726-9200 to set up an Initial Meeting or RSVP for an upcoming workshop where you can learn more about effective planning. Your loved ones will be so grateful when the time comes and you can have peace of mind knowing they are protected.

Jigsaw Puzzles and Asset Titling

Let’s think of estate planning as a puzzle.

1. WHAT’S THE PICTURE?

Do you like to know what the picture is that you’re putting together when you work a puzzle? In fact, when I go to buy a puzzle, I only have 2 criteria – the size (usually 500 pieces) and what the picture is. I want a picture on the front that I like.

Do you know what picture you are trying to create with your estate plan? What will your stuff be doing to impact people? How do you hope your family and others are getting along after you’re gone?

Most of my clients have a very fuzzy estate planning picture when I first meet with them. They have some ideas, but maybe not a lot of details. Or there may be things they want to do that they have never heard of until they meet with me. As we work together, their estate planning goals get clearer. As they work with me over the years, it gets even clearer, year by year.

2. MIXED UP PIECES

Once you know the picture you want, then you need the right puzzle pieces to make that picture come together.

As you go through life, you collect different pieaces of your estate planning puzzle. You buy a house with your wife. That’s one piece. Then you get a life insurance policy and name beneficiaries – that’s another. Then you put some money into a CD at the bank and name a grandkid as “payable on death.” Then you may even add a 401k, IRA, annuity, timeshare, car, jewelry, family heirlooms, etc. Each of these assets, and how they are organized and held legally, is another piece to your estate planning puzzle. If at some point you did a will or a trust, then those are additional pieces to your estate plan puzzle.

When we work with clients to gather up all these pieces (or info about them). Then we lay out all the pieces and look to see if they fit in with the picture (the plan) that we are creating with the client.

Most of the time, they don’t all fit and we have to move some assets around, change the way they are titled, so everything works together. Without this kind of coordination, when a client gets to the end of their life, the family may be left with a bunch of pieces that don’t fit together. And even if the pieces can be forced together, they may not make the picture the person had in mind for their legacy.

Do all your estate planning pieces fit together?

Transitions in Life

BAILEY’S “NEW SCHOOL”

At our house, we are in the middle of a transition. 2 1/2 year old Bailey is switching to a new daycare. For the last couple of years, Bailey has gone 2-3 days a week to her “school” (Memorial Childcare) when Michelle is working as a nurse at Memorial Medical Center or substitute teaching at Butler Elementary.
Because of my new office location and some schedule changes for Michelle’s work, it no longer made sense to drive across town to drop off and pick up Bailey at Memorial. So, yesterday was her last day and she is going to be switching to Pleasant Run Learning Center which is right down the street from my new office.
We’re excited about the new school (it has been highly recommended) and how convenient it will be, but it’s still sad. Bailey loves it at Memorial. She’s had the most wonderful teachers and she’s gotten to know her little friends. When we say our prayers over the dinner table, she tells us different of her little friends that she wants to pray for. And some of her friend’s parents are our friends that we knew even before Bailey was born.
The transition is harder for mom and dad than for Bailey. It’s hard for us to move her from a place that we have trusted and that has played such a big part in her life these past 2 years. But Bailey is ready to go! After visiting her new school for an hour with mom a couple weeks ago, she woke up the next morning wanting to go start at her new school THAT day. I said, well, it will be a couple of weeks until you switch.
Wouldn’t it be great if we all dealt with transitions as well as a toddler does? (at least this transition).

THIS IS WHAT I DO (transitions)

Which reminded me that what I do every day is help people with transitions. Some transitions are planned and some are not. Some we will all face at some point in our life and others only some of us will have to deal with. Some we plan for, hoping we never have to use those plans. Other plans we know will be used eventually. (they say the human condition is 100% fatal).
I help people plan for transitions before they happen, and help other people deal with the stress of a transition as it is it happening. Without enough preparation, there is always greater stress and expense, and the result of the transition is not always what the person expected.
I enjoy helping clients plan and gain real peace of mind. It’s much more difficult to see my clients struggling through a difficult situation that could have been much easier with proper planning beforehand.

What is your job, what is the attorney’s job

Boring is defined as “so lacking in interest as to cause mental weariness.”

Well, hopefully this post is not really boring, but I wanted to make a point. I have a theory that most of the estate planning information being said or written by attorneys out there is BORING.

And by boring, I don’t mean it is wrong or not important. But I do mean that it doesn’t talk about the things that matter to you. Why is that? I think it’s because many attorneys have forgotten what their job is and what your job is. If it were the attorney’s job just to write down what you tell them (basically a scrivener), then you would need to understand all the technical aspects of tax law, probate, asset protection, etc.

The IRS Code – is that why you plan your estate, to learn tax law? When you go to a doctor because you are sick, do you want an anatomy lesson or a discussion of the latest medical journals? No, you just want to get well.

I have found that estate planning works best when I have a job to do and my clients have a job to do. What is the client’s job? To tell me about their family, their dreams, concerns, fears, how they want to live their life and how they want to be remembered. It’s my job to guide them through some options to clarify their goals. Once we decide the goals, it is my job to use legal and tax strategies to accomplish those goals.

Am I Your Type?

There are 4 types of estate planning:

Do nothing. Let others sort it out later.

Do it yourself. Get a form and fill in the blanks. How hard can it be?

Use a document-driven attorney. Pay lots of money for a fancier form that someone else fills out for you.

Use a counseling-oriented attorney. Build a lifelong relationship with someone you can trust… someone who also knows your other family members, understands your family values and collaborates with your other advisors (tax, financial, banking, insurance). Work with this person over time to create a personalized plan that is always up to date. Experience peace of mind knowing you’ve done everything within your power to protect your loved ones and the things for which you’ve worked so hard.

So, am I your type?

Protecting Your Family Like an NFL Lineman: 4 Risks to an Inheritance

The other day I had a chance to speak at the Rotary Club. My topic, like the article “How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke” in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, was about protecting the money you’ve worked so hard for. There are many ways your spouse, children or grandchildren could end up losing what was so important for you to leave behind. I know you can’t imagine your loved ones blowing your hard earned money (or maybe you can), but sometimes it happens in the blink of an eye. What are some of the risks to an inheritance?

There are generally 4 risks to an inheritance:

1. Lawsuits

The SI article is riddled with stories of lawsuits. Though it may not be something you think about, imagine your spouse, devastated by your recent death, running a red light and causing an accident involving a school bus. In an instant, all that you worked so hard for could be given away by the courts to the injured parties leaving nothing to care for your family in your absence.

2. Divorce

One NFL owner was once asked by one of his players what the most dangerous thing to happen to them financially could be. His answer: Divorce. Many players, who marry their hometown sweetheart, can never imagine a divorce in their future. Even if your son has married the sweetest girl in the world, there is no way to see what the future holds. Would you be OK giving half your hard earned money to her if they end up getting divorced a few years after you pass away? It happens regularly when people don’t plan ahead.

3. Remarriage

If you die, and your spouse remarries, do you mind if part of the money you left is split with the new spouse, or even later left to the new spouse’s kids? This could either be a gold-digger (or “bimbo” as some of my clients like to say) or a stand up, class-act new spouse. But either way, without planning, there is a risk those assets will end up where you did not intend. Your children could even lose access to the money they would need for college.

4. Wild Spending

Lots of quick money means a happy life, right? Well, that’s not what the stats show. Quick money (winning the lottery, getting an inheritance, or multi-million dollar NFL contract) can lead to wild spending, divorce and bankruptcy. If your children end up with large assets at the young age of 20, they could quickly blow it like any upstart professional athlete. If someone isn’t prepared to manage the money, the money will manage them. You’ve worked hard so your kids will be ok without you, but will they really be better off with a large sum of money that has no safeguards?

Nobody likes to think about these difficult issues, but with proper planning these assets can be protected and your loved ones will be protected – even if you can’t be around to do it. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 or make plans to attend an upcoming workshop on the basics of estate planning, so you can make sure your family is protected.

What are you proud of?

Do you ever feel pretty proud of yourself? Kind of interesting the stuff that we get proud of. Here are some of the things I have been proud of lately:

1. stopped drinking diet soda. Used to drink it all the time, for years, but my mom kept telling me it would give me cancer eventually. Finally I decided it can’t be good for me, all that fake sugar. So I stopped. I forget when it was exactly. I think it was over a year ago. Since then, I can count on one hand the times I drank diet soda.

2. I ran a 5k. Actually finished it in 30 minutes. I think I may have come up with a new exercise program. Run a 5k every month and do nothing in between. I may do another 5k this Saturday, but I actually have run a little bit since the last 5k a month ago. But that last one was my first organized race ever. I liked it. Plus I got a free t-shirt.

3. I’m almost done with a Lyndon Johnson biography by Robert Dallek , part of my lifelong quest of reading a biography about every president. For some reason, this one has been tough sledding. But I only have about 100 pages to go. I’m proud of myself now, and will be even prouder when I’m done. Then I think I will next read the Nixon biography by Stephen Ambrose. (I’m a big Ambrose fan.)

Then I kept thinking about this stuff. Is this the stuff I want to be remembered for when I’m dead and gone? Strange how small things seem worth some pride even if it’s not anything of real eternal significance. How do you want to be remembered? What do you want your friends and family to say about you? What kind of son, husband, father, brother, friend, boss, employee, or neighbor do you want to be known as?

Ok, gotta go. Need to knock out a few more pages of that LBJ biography before bed…