What You Missed: Estate Planning
By Danielle McFarland
Affiance Financial recently hosted the third installment of its 2013 Client Education Series, which focused on Estate Planning. Clients were given an open invitation to bring guests and engage in a panel discussion with Affiance’s Steve Lear, Andy Fishman and three attorneys who specialize in estate planning law: Stuart Bear, J.D. and partner with Chestnut Cambronne PA; Susan Link, J.D., partner and Head of Estate Planning Group with Malson, Edelman, Borman & Brand LLP; and Bradley J. Frank, partner with Barnes & Thornburg LLP. The workshops were held Thursday evening, October 24, and midday Friday, October 25 in a large conference room at the 600 Metropoint Building in St. Louis Park. The rooms were nearly filled to capacity on both dates, and offsite participants were invited to sign onto their desktop computers and mobile devices via live-stream video Webinar.
Bear kicked-off Thursday’s conference by giving a synopsis of his average conversation with clients seeking to draft an estate plan. The question most commonly asked, according to Bear, is “How much does an estate plan cost?” And his response summed-up a common theme of the evening: Creating a comprehensive estate plan costs less than what your family would pay if you didn’t have one.
By using the term “comprehensive” to describe an estate plan, Bear urged a call-to-action in three important areas with legal documentation: succession planning (wills and trusts), disability planning (power of attorney and healthcare directives), and risk management (asset management and insurance).
Following Bear’s intro, Link introduced herself by relaying a personal story that ultimately inspired her to change the direction of her practice to specializing in estate planning. As a young attorney, she experienced firsthand how families can easily squander an estate through attorney’s fees.
Years ago, Link’s mother passed away unexpectedly, leaving behind a large Italian family. To initiate the estate-administration process, the family met at a large firm in downtown Chicago. With their matriarch gone, laden with grief and their mother’s beneficiary designations “messed up,” it seemed appropriate the firm chose to meet the family with two representatives. But, “they were already double billing us for the meeting,” said Link.
In addition, as Link remembers, “[the lawyers] were trying to get us to pick a fight with one another.” They asked the family why the youngest daughter received all the family rings. The youngest daughter happened to be Link. Thankfully, her relationship with her sisters was strong; otherwise “you’ve got three girls arguing about all the family rings…those lawyers would’ve capitalized off my mom being gone.”
In fact, “it’s not just economic assets people argue about,” said Link; there are numerous reasons families should invest in an estate plan prior to losing a loved one.
One of the benefits of talking to a professional while drawing-up arrangements for succession is that it provides you with counsel for, and navigation through, the many different options available for beneficiaries. The panel discussed the importance of estate holders understanding how they own all of their assets—it sounds simple, but this process can be costly for beneficiaries after the holder has departed. Another consideration, according to Bear, is the use of revocable trusts as a legal entity that stands separately for holding assets. Revocable trusts help beneficiaries avoid probate and create confidentiality (there is no public record of transferring ownership).
Throughout both workshops, the attorneys strongly encouraged anyone over 18 years of age to complete a healthcare directive, and / or power of attorney, in the event they cannot represent themselves. These oft-overlooked documents help close loopholes that could result in excessive medical bills or halting beneficiary disbursement.
Andy Fishman informed the audience: “People should be aware that, for couples over the age of 65, the chances are high one person will need care.” When thinking about disability, a long-term care plan was suggested to avoid spending-down assets for healthcare in the future. The best time to seek a long-term care policy, according to Bear, is as early as possible; or, more specifically, between the ages of 50 and 70.
It was impressed upon the crowd that estate plans are an ongoing process. In Bear’s opinion, the shelf-life of an estate plan is three to five years. “You can’t write a good legal document that will last 40 years… people change,” said Bear.
In closing, Bear urged the audience to speak with their financial planners about pursuing a comprehensive estate plan. “Susan and I can help with saving on taxes and minimizing probate, but unless we work closely as a team with your financial advisor to make sure we have something that is actually going to be protected to pass onto your loved ones, we haven’t done a complete job with estate planning,” said Bear.
Registered Representatives offering securities and advisory services through Cetera Advisor Networks LLC. Full-service Broker Dealer, member FINRA, SIPC. Cetera Advisor Networks LLC and Affiance Financial are not affiliated. Advisory services also offered through Affiance Financial.