Seasonal change is often tied to critical reminders, such as pairing safety checks of your smoke detectors with the beginning and end of Daylight Savings. This same type of regular cadence can also be applied to your long-term financial, investing and estate planning.
In conjunction with a long-term investment plan, an estate plan can help transfer wealth you’ve accumulated, fulfill philanthropic goals, minimize wealth transfer taxes, protect assets and provide ongoing management of your financial affairs if you no longer want to manage them on your own. Estate planning is not a “set it and forget it” proposition. To be most effective in reaching your goals and safeguarding the things that matter most in your life, these reviews should happen at regular intervals.
Many individuals only think about conducting a more formal review at year’s end (if that), whether the topic is walking through their estate planning checklist or assessing the investment performance that will fund long-term goals. Yet given the hectic nature of November and December, leaving that kind of thoughtful check-in to the final month of the year is never the best approach.
There is a discipline to more carefully and mindfully cataloging changes taking place throughout the course of the year. This kind of mindfulness will positively impact your financial readiness today, while making it more likely you will achieve key goals for yourself and your estate after you’re gone.
The below tips are helpful for anyone to review, yet are particularly important for those near the start of their estate planning journey.
- Set a Cadence and Stick to It: Establish and keep to a regular meeting cadence with your financial, legal and investment advisors. Reserve one meeting annually to dive into critical updates or shifting goals. You can take a lighter touch throughout the rest of the year whenever necessary.
- Tune Into the Cycles of Your Life: As we shared in an earlier blog post, it’s critical to think more broadly and deeply about the cycles of your life and how changes (big and small) align with your values and may shape specific estate or financial goals.
- Write It Down: Once or twice a year, sit with a pen and paper – or fire up your computer – and make a list of notable events or updates in areas like finances, work, lifestyle and family and close relationships. Pay attention to bigger investments you have made and map your spending to get a handle on how your expenses – and the priorities associated with them – may be shifting. This disciplined approach can help you notice patterns and jot down important insights to discuss with your advisors.
- Master the Essential Elements of an Estate Plan: A simple Google search will source scores of articles on estate planning basics. If you’re not familiar with the essential elements of a well-rounded estate plan, read up! The five most cited components are a will, a financial power of attorney, a living will, a healthcare power of attorney and (potentially) a trust.
- Now Get Them Drafted: If you are reading this and have yet to tackle any of the items on the estate planning essentials list, the time is now! While there are free or low-cost resources online to help in drafting a basic will, it’s always advisable to work with an attorney who is an expert in estate planning and, importantly, understands the laws that govern your state. No matter what direction you take, commit to getting the core documents developed and done within the next six months. And then, per the advice above, remember to revisit your plans regularly.
- Make It a Family Affair: Consider which aspects of your financial picture and estate plans you want to discuss with and among select close family members. Too many families avoid conversations about money and life planning, missing vital points of connection. This can leave your close family members in the dark in the case of a sudden emergency. It can cause conflicts that could be avoided with greater transparency and forethought. And it’s a lost opportunity to teach children and teens about critical aspects of managing their financial lives. Take it as far as you are comfortable, but don’t keep it all to yourself.
- Make the Right Introductions: Ensure that close family members meet or know about your outside “partners in planning,” such as your financial or investment advisor and your estate attorney. Provide key contact information to those family members and share important instructions, should an emergency arise.
The estate planning process can feel daunting. Once the multiple conversations and round of documents have been completed, it can be tempting to feel the work is “done.” Yet viewing this as a more organic and ongoing process will lead to better preparedness, greater protection and a higher likelihood of reaching your estate goals.
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