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Estate Planning Preliminaries

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Choosing a Trusted Team to Ensure a Smooth Transition for Your Family

Wealth management isn’t just about ensuring that you have enough money to live comfortably throughout your life, including after the age of retirement.  For many people, it includes a desire to leave something behind for a spouse, children, or other loved ones when you’re gone.  This is the purpose of estate planning, which helps you to make your wishes clear by utilizing legal devices that ensure your wealth is distributed as you see fit when you pass away.

This could be as simple as creating a last will and testament, but it could also be a lot more complex.  Your estate plan may include any number of different trust structures, and you have to think about how you want to use and protect money while you’re alive, so that you can live out your life comfortably and have something left to pass along.

For this reason, you may want to consider a number of options when it comes to selecting a team of professionals that you can trust to manage your affairs when the time comes.  Here are a few key players you may want for your estate planning and management team.

Hire a Pro: Compare Financial Advisors In Your Area

While a financial advisor is tasked with helping you to accumulate wealth during your lifetime, an estate planning attorney helps you to protect it during your lifetime and after your death.  This professional may prepare wills and trusts on your behalf, prepare powers of attorney, create plans to reduce estate tax, and coordinate with your financial advisor to place all of your assets in trusts or other protective legal structures.  Your attorney (or the attorney’s law offices) could also act as the executor of your estate when the time comes.

CPA

You may already have a relationship with a certified public accountant (CPA) if your personal or business income taxes are complex enough to require professional assistance.  Your CPA could participate in the estate planning process in a couple of key ways.

First, a CPA, especially one already familiar with your finances, can help you to understand the tax implications of your financial decisions, and how they might ultimately impact your estate.  Even if you don’t have a sizeable estate, perhaps just a home, a retirement account, and some minor investments, you want to make sure there’s something left over for your heirs.

In addition, your CPA can help to minimize tax liability when you pass away, ensuring that the lion’s share of your wealth goes to loved ones, instead of getting siphoned for death tax, probate, and other expenses.  Working with your financial advisor and attorney, a CPA is a great addition to your estate planning team.

Bank Trust Department

Although estate planning attorneys are adept at creating ironclad wills and trusts, you may not want to put all your eggs in one basket by naming one the executor of your will AND your trustee.  This is where a bank trust department comes in.  This department is responsible for serving as a trustee, and there are a couple of advantages to be gained.

As a trustee, the bank trust department will manage the trust during your lifetime, including handling record-keeping, investments, tax returns, and other required actions spelled out in the trust (including any provisions you’ve included).  The biggest draws here are professional management and continuity.

However, the best reason to use a bank trust department is to have a professional entity managing the transition of the trust to beneficiaries in the wake of your passing.  The bank has no conflict of interest (unlike family members, potentially), making it easier to exercise discretion when beneficiaries have conflicting interests and desires.  In addition, there is less chance that funds could be illegally siphoned by the trustee, due to stringent checks and balances, and even if they were, there’s a good chance the bank would offer reparations as a way to preserve their reputation.

A Note on Selecting a Relative as an Executor

There’s something to be said for placing the power of executor and/or trustee in the hands of a beloved and trusted family member who you know will try to carry out your last wishes as faithfully as possible.  However, you need to consider what a huge responsibility (and potential burden) this can be.

For starters, it’s likely that the family member you choose, such as an adult child or someone from a younger generation, won’t have the faintest idea of what is required from an executor or trustee.  This can be an incredibly stressful position for a loved one to find themselves in.  In addition, choosing one relative over the others could lead to feelings of jealousy and even cause a rift in the family.  You naturally don’t want to be responsible for engendering any bad blood in the course of your passing.

Then there’s the fact that the person you choose will be forced to focus on the duties of an executor while mourning your loss.  In short, choosing a trusted family member may not be the best option.  When you work with qualified estate planning lawyers, financial advisors, CPAs, and bank trust departments to facilitate end-of-life planning, you have the best opportunity to see that your last wishes are carried out precisely, and that your loved ones suffer as little as possible in the process.

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