You have arrived. Just a moment ago you were nearing retirement. When did you get to this place in life so quickly? What do you need to do right now in preparation for that day?
Chances are good that all of your children have left the nest with lives and growing families of their own. If they are living, perhaps you are becoming parents to your parents and caring for them more just like their parents before them.
As you enter this new stage of life, this would be an ideal time to create (or revisit) your estate plan, and to make sure your adult children and parents have their legal ducks-in-a-row, too. After all, you likely have witnessed what can happen when families do not have proper estate planning in place.
Unfortunately, many married couples mistakenly believe that they can make personal, health care and financial decisions for one another should either spouse become legally incapacitated due to a serious injury or illness. This is a common misconception!
Without proper estate planning in advance to appoint your spouse as the incapacity decision-maker, he or she will not have legal authority to make even fundamental decisions for you (or affecting both of you). For example, medical privacy laws will bar access to your medical records and the ability to consult with your attending physician, financial laws limit control over your finances, and IRS regulations will prohibit filing a “legal” joint income tax return …for starters.
Unless you legally appoint the decision-maker of your own selection in advance through proper estate planning, then a probate judge will select one for you. While the judge will likely appoint your spouse, the probate court process to accomplish this, called conservatorship, is expensive, discloses your private personal and financial information to the public record and is a real hassle for your spouse.
Did you know that in the absence of proper estate planning, your assets may be distributed after death based on “one-size-fits-all” state laws written for people who do not have their own estate plan? Of course, this impersonal estate plan written by state lawmakers may not reflect your own unique circumstances and objectives for your spouse and assets. This process is called “probate” and in California, not only does it not reflect your individual family and circumstances, but it takes a long time and is very expensive.
Further, when it comes to your children and grandchildren, great care should be given to protect any inheritance both for them and from them. For starters, wealth representing a lifetime of your hard work and thrift can be squandered in very short order. Dollars earned just spend differently than dollars inherited. In addition to good, old-fashioned squandering, an inheritance can quickly vanish through divorces, lawsuits and bankruptcies.
You may also be concerned that your children’s inheritance may be lost if your spouse gets remarried. You can protect against remarriage and make sure that your lifetime of savings goes to the people you want it to, and not to a new spouse or new step-children.
If you have large balances in your tax-deferred retirement accounts (401(K), IRA, 403(b), etc.) then there are IRS regulations that need to be very carefully planned around as well. Without proper planning, your children may be required to liquidate these accounts in 5 years or less, resulting in huge tax bills!
Fortunately, with good, careful estate planning, you can protect your children’s inheritance and make sure your wishes are followed. Schedule a consultation today to discuss your personal estate plan and have your questions answered.