In a recently published article on The Street.com a study from BMO Wealth Management shows that over 50% of Americans surveyed do not have an estate plan, and of the ones that did have an estate plan, only 25% of them knew where it was. As professionals, we should be aware of all aspects of a client’s planning from the investments they are in, the taxes they are paying, and the planning they have (or need) set up.
In many cases the lack of planning is a direct result of the uncomfortable or intimidating topics it can bring to light. Here are three initial questions you can raise with your client, and while they might be uncomfortable to talk about avoiding the discussion only makes the outcome that much worse.
Question 1: What would happen to your children if something happened to both of you?
Responses may range from “you know your parents are crazy” to “is your uncle going to be able to handle our kids”, but very rarely is there a concise and uniform answer when the question is first asked. Identifying and naming both a primary guardian as well as successor guardians is intricate to a good estate plan.
Question 2: Who gets your stuff, and how?
Responses here may come in the form of “It’s not my problem at that point” to “my family of course”; however, the more important aspect of this question is HOW? When assets are left “outright”, which is to say not in a trust designed for the maximum benefit of the recipient, that individual’s inheritance is likely subject to divorce, bankruptcy, and law suit . Making sure your planning is providing for your heirs and not your heirs problems is crucial to a good estate plan.
Question 3: What amount of inheritance would you like to set aside for fees and expense?
Responses are typically delayed as many do not consider the potential costs when settling an estate. When an individual passes away there is always an administration of their assets and debts. The cost variable is a function of how much time, controversy, and Court involvement an estate will have. When you take the time to make clear your wishes in a comprehensive plan you can limit many of the above issues, and in turn minimize the costs of an estate administration .
These are not easy questions to ask, but they are important answers to have when discussing and implementing an estate plan. As you bring up these (or other) questions with your clients we are here to be a part of the discussion and solution.