QUESTION: Are You Confident About Your Estate Planning Team?

QUESTION: Are You Confident About Your Estate Planning Team?

INTRO: Estate Planning is not static nor is it an individual endeavor. Estate Planning evolves over time. It’s a “team sport”. If you have a team, you might as well assemble the strongest team possible. In this article we talk about what comprises an estate planning team: both professional advisors and personal folks (e.g. family and/or friends). Who are candidates to assist you, as needed? There’s no time like the present to: reflect on what team members are in place; decide whether or not these people are still the best suited to fill their position; and take affirmative steps to substitute for and add team members, as necessary or appropriate.

As always, the first question about estate planning is: do you have an estate plan? Naturally, if the answer is no, you should change that by working with an experienced estate planning attorney to establish and obtain advice about core documents, including a living trust, will, power of attorney and advance health care directive.

If you have an estate plan, the next question is: when was the last time you had it reviewed and updated with legal counsel? Consumers sometime view estate planning as a static, one time event. It’s not. Your life and those of your loved ones change. Your financial situation has ups and downs. New tax law is passed. Estate planning law and practice evolves. As I’ve written frequently, it’s generally a great idea to engage in a comprehensive estate planning review at least every 3-5 years, or sooner if anything material changes in your financial or personal life.

If you have an estate plan, you also have an estate planning team. The team may seem to consist of just your estate planning lawyer. Who else might you consider or hire to be part of your team? Albeit some of these team members play smaller and some larger roles, they might include (among others) the following professionals, as merited – your:

  • tax accountant;
  • financial advisor;
  • insurance (life, disability, long term care, etc.) agent(s);
  • business attorney;
  • banker;
  • real estate agent;
  • mortgage broker

If you have read my articles before, you know I place a high value on hiring excellent professional advisors. A solid investment in the right professional team members can pay off handsomely in helping you make a series of important decisions throughout your life. People establish and continue relationships with various professional team members for a whole host of reasons. Interestingly, these reasons often do not include that the client is extremely confident about the ability, responsiveness and ethics of a particular advisor.

In my view, it’s very important to evaluate carefully when hiring, and re-evaluate at appropriate intervals, your level of confidence in each of your professional advisors. If it’s anything but very high, you should really make a change or add a team member who can fill a particular need in an expert manner. We are fortunate to live in an area in which there are many fine professionals from whom one can choose.

Aside from professional advisors, you’ll need to assemble the right “personal team members” – typically loved ones and/or close friends (and in appropriate circumstances, private or institutional fiduciaries). These are folks you appoint to serve, at the appropriate time when called upon, a critical role in your estate plan, including:

  • The successor trustee(s) of your living trust;
  • The executor and successor executor(s) of your will;
  • The person(s) you nominate in your will to serve as guardian of your minor children;
  • The primary and successor agents you nominate in your Advance Health Care Directive to make medical decisions if you become incapacitated;
  • The primary and successor agents you designate under your Durable Power of Attorney to handle your financial matters if you become unable to do so.

Just as it’s important to have a full, excellent team of professional estate planning team members, it’s essential that your estate planning documents designate the key personal team members who are most likely to carry out your affairs responsibly and in accordance with your wishes when the need arises. Your estate planning attorney can and should play a valuable role in helping you identify sound, objective criteria for making these appointments.

Of course, subjective and emotional issues should not be ignored or dismissed; however, a seasoned estate planning attorney and other professional team members can be very helpful in identifying potential conflicts, warning signs, risks and problems with a client’s initial instincts about who will fill these personal team member positions. The neutral “reality check” such professionals are able to present – particularly when based on many years of actual experience helping people plan and administer trusts/estates – should provide powerful assistance in helping you appoint an estate planning team in which you have justifiable confidence.

Do you remember those you chose (when your documents were originally drafted or last revised) as primary and alternates for each of the handful of critical roles I identified above? If not, it should only take a few minutes to pull out your documents and check. If you don’t feel very strongly that these are your best current candidates, be proactive and work with your estate planning attorney to re-evaluate these prior decisions and revise your documents to set up the optimal team.

This article is intended to provide information of a general nature, and should not be relied upon as legal, tax, financial and/or business advice. Readers should obtain and rely upon specific advice only from their own qualified professional advisors. This communication is not intended or written to be used, for the purpose of: i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code; or ii) promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any matters addressed herein.

Mr. Silverman is an attorney with R. Silverman Law Group, 1855 Olympic Blvd., Suite 125, Walnut Creek, CA 94596; (925) 705-4474; rsilverman@rsilvermanlaw.com.

ESTATE LEGAL SERVICES: Need to find an estate planning attorney in Walnut Creek CA? Contact Robert Silverman at 925-705-4474 for legal advice on Revocable Living Trust, Wills, Durable Power of Attorney, Advance Health Care Directive, Special Needs Trusts, and Irrevocable Trusts & Advanced Estate Planning, including Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT), Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT), Defective Grantor Trust (IDGT), Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT), “Crummey Trust”, and various types of Charitable Trusts.

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