Money and death are sensitive subjects, so it’s easy to put off decisions and conversations relating to your own estate plans. Yet those two elements—planning and communicating—are critical to the success of wealth transfer. These five steps can help guide you along the way as you establish your plan and prepare your heirs for the eventual transfer of your estate:
1. Educate your heirs about your estate’s value—and its values
This process should begin early with financial education. When a family is still living under the same roof, it is easier to have discussions about the value of money, budgeting, saving and credit. The conversations should then gradually expand and deepen to include more details about your estate, as well as the legacy you envision for yourself and hope to see your heirs preserve.
2. Consider your assets, as well as who values them most
Liquid assets (such as investment accounts and insurance policies) can be straightforward to split between heirs. Other assets, such as a family business, art collection or vacation home, are harder to divide. Consider matching the assets in this latter category with the children or heirs most likely to enjoy them. Some assets can be shared among children; others can’t. Anticipating any possible points of contention is far better than letting them develop into relational or legal battles later, so it’s important to make preliminary decisions now to gauge your heirs’ reaction.
3. Share plans with your heirs and make adjustments as appropriate
You might think you know which heirs value which assets, but there’s no substitute for an open and frank discussion to verify that your insights are accurate. The person you envision taking over the family business, for example, may have no interest in doing so, and by learning that early, you can modify your estate plans accordingly. These conversations can also help flag potential points of conflict, after which you can consider revisions in order to keep things balanced and amicable.
“It’s good to have this dialogue to understand how your family members feel before any irrevocable decisions are made.”—Craig Cascio, Senior Vice President, Wealth Planning Manager, SunTrust Bank
4. Put your administrative house in order
When drafting your plan, you can add restrictions as you see fit. For example, you can hold assets in trust or specify a use for certain funds, such as college tuition. It’s also critical to identify capable trustees who will see your plans through, and who can be trusted with judgment calls as needed.
5. Revisit your plan
Your first formal estate plan should be drafted no later than the birth of your first child. From there, revisit the plan every three to five years, adding detail as you experience milestones or life events such as retirement, death or divorce.