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Estate planning is the preparation of managing someone’s assets in the event of their incapacitation or death. The advisors at Private Ocean frequently work with clients in partnership with their estate planning attorneys and other professionals to ensure that the client’s wishes are carried out. Here are some frequently asked questions that our advisors often receive about estate planning.

Question 1: What does the trustee or executor of my estate actually do?

In handling the estate the executor is legally responsible for sorting out the finances of the person who has passed away, generally making sure that debts and taxes are paid and that assets are properly distributed. Some examples of the things you might do as an executor include notifying banks of the death of the person, opening bank accounts in the name of the estate, making sure tax returns are filed, checking on required payments from IRAs, managing property and upkeep, preparing for the sale of property, attending to digital assets and social media accounts and more. You can certainly ask for help from an estate planning attorney with some of these tasks, but it’s still a lot of work that can be time consuming. Sometimes we recommend considering hiring a professional fiduciary firm who can help some of this work. They typically charge by the hour at reasonable rates.

Question 2: What should we think about and discuss before we meet with our estate attorney?

There are four critical questions that we recommend you ask yourself before you meet with an estate attorney:

  1. Who is going to make the important financial and medical decisions on my behalf during my life in the event I can’t do that for myself?
  2. Who would I want to raise my children if they are still minors?
  3. Who is going to receive my assets? At the highest level, there are three buckets to consider: Heirs, who are individuals, Charities, and then Government, which comes in the form of estate taxes.
  4. How should my assets be distributed? You don’t have to have all of these details worked out, but having discussed the ideal way to have your estate distributed before you meet with an estate attorney will help make your conversation more beneficial.

Question 3: What is the typical experience when you meet with an estate attorney and what you should expect at the end of the engagement?

A good attorney needs to be both an excellent communicator and a good listener. Plan on having several meetings with an attorney to acquaint them with your situation, to draft documents and answer questions, and then to sign these documents. Bu the end of the process you should understand your estate plan, and have your signed documents and marching orders on how you might change the titling of assets and beneficiary designations should the need arise.

Question 4: How often should my estate plan be revisited?

Creating an estate plan is not a “one and done” event. Whenever there’s a change in sentiment about how you want to leave your estate, or you experience a major life event (a birth of a child or a new grandchild, a marriage, a divorce, or a change in the capabilities of your beneficiary, etc.) you should make time to revisit our estate plan to determine if you’d like to make any adjustments. Another instance is in regards to state estate taxes, which change frequently. (Maybe not in recent years, but at one point in time state estate taxes were an issue if you had over 600K in assets).

Question 5: What general advice do you have?

This is one questions that we receive frequently from our clients, and we typically offer two pieces of advice. The first is to not procrastinate about actually completing an estate plan. One issue that we see the most often is that clients start working with an attorney on an estate plan and don’t complete it, or they’re still in the thought process stage of planning before they meet with an attorney. Estate planning is just as much about the present as it is about the future. Knowing these documents can be changed at any time offers you the ability to ensure that your present-day circumstances are handled in the most ideal way possible. If you don’t have all the answers for the future, that’s ok! There will be lots of reasons to change your estate plan along the way. The second piece of advice is that “perfect can be the enemy of good.” You don’t have to have every last piece of your estate plan figured out before you have it drafted. Go ahead and meet with your attorney and get those documents put in place now. It’s always better to have something than nothing and you risk leaving your wishes to chance if something should happen to you. Just remember that estate planning is an art and a science. The science is the technical tools and strategies you can employ to take care of your assets and your beneficiaries. The art is knowing how to judiciously use those tools and strategy so that the end result doesn’t end up being unnecessarily complicated.

Question 6: How does Private Ocean help clients with estate planning?

Our advisors can certainly help discuss your answers to the four questions above in Question 2. Our clients sometimes ask us to attend these meetings with the estate planning attorney, and we can review their estate plan with them from time to time. We talk to our clients more often than perhaps they meet with their attorney, so we might hear about life changes or other events that could be worth the client’s time to share with their attorney who in turn can help revise their estate plan.


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