Plans that work!
Our biggest challenge is helping clients create estate plans that will work today and tomorrow. For most of us things change: our perspective changes, our health changes, our thinking changes—not to mention changes in our beneficiaries’ lives and changes in the law—tax or otherwise. But many times we fail to recognize how those changes may impact our estate plans.
Just like an annual physical where our doctor checks our blood pressure, weighs us, tests our blood and pokes and prods us, checking in on your estate plan on a regular basis is important. Often, self-analysis is all it takes. For instance, can you answer “yes” to our four questions?
- Do I understand my estate plan?
- Will my plan take care of me and my beneficiaries in the way I want?
- Are all my assets titled in a manner that is consistent with my plan?
- Do my helpers understand what I want them to do for me?
If your answers are an emphatic “yes” then it’s likely your plan will work as intended. If you are equivocating or have solid “no” answers, it is likely time to review your plan.
As we review clients’ plans, we find many need revisions. Does the tax planning we did before the exemption went from $2M to $3.5m to $5M to $10M—adjusted for inflation, the exemption is actually $12.92M today. And will the exemption actually go back to $5M adjusted for inflation on January 1, 2026 as scheduled? Should a married couple rely on portability for tax planning and forego generation skipping transfer tax planning?
What about the beneficiary who has pulled their life together and no longer needs trust protections they needed six years ago—or the beneficiary who is now struggling with a disability or going through a difficult divorce or is starting a business, perhaps now they need protections?
For 27 years we’ve been working with families—watching their lives, their beneficiaries’ lives, and the law change. Some of our clients follow the Lifeplan Planning Process, which includes regular reviews and updates. Most, but not all, of our Lifeplan clients can answer “yes” to our four questions. For those clients who are not regularly reviewing their plans, “yes” answers are harder to come by.
We want everyone’s plan to work. Our current “big picture” project is coming up with easy to use tools that will help all our clients answer “yes” to our four questions. To achieve this goal all of the stakeholders in a client’s plan need to be engaged. This includes helpers, (agents, Trustees and executors) financial, insurance and tax advisers, medical professionals and, where appropriate friends and neighbors.
Efforts we are taking include doing a better job communicating with our clients’ advisors earlier in the planning process, and as the plan evolves. Last winter we published Transitions, a compilation of articles written by colleagues discussing topics including Aging in Place, Exercise, Legacy Letters, Medical Assistance in Dying, Dementia and more. In addition, Transitions includes a resource section for assisted living, independent living and nursing homes in the greater Upper Valley.
Recently we have set up a “Helpers” page on our website. It includes some basic information about planning and a glossary of terms it’s good to know. In addition, there is a link to a secure portal. This gives clients the ability to allow their helpers and other advisors access to plan documents clients upload to the portal.
There are other steps we can take to help increase the likelihood plans will work. If you have ideas you think would help make the planning process more effective and more likely to succeed, please let us know! Thank you.