Two annual trends spur such thinking: generations of family often gather around the holidays, providing the opportunity to discuss estate planning issues. Also, many people naturally think philanthropically during this season—and coincidentally, end-of-year charitable giving can help to ease the inevitable pain of tax time come the following April.
Estate planning often brings to mind setting up an inheritance for children. But for the 61 percent of LGBTQ individuals who don’t have children, according to LGBT Financial Experience 2016-17 by Prudential Financial, estate planning is still a very important financial planning step, though it might have a different focus.
“Estate planning is essential for modern families,” said Matt Tilghman-Havens, a senior wealth planner with U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management. “A financial advisor can help couples have estate planning conversations, which often are difficult for people to discuss. He or she can provide guidance in the discussion and also help find common ground if both members aren’t on the same page.”
The following items are often included in an estate plan. Tilghman-Havens recommends families get these documents prepared by an attorney, and then share where they are stored with trusted friends and family members. Be sure to store the originals in a safe place like a fire box, a safe deposit box or even with a corporate trustee.
1. Power of Attorney – There are two basic types of power of attorney. The first is for health care matters, and the second for financial decisions if you are unable to make those decisions due to health issues. You may decide to name the same person to handle both matters. Traditionally, couples will put their spouse first on the POA list, but it’s a good idea to have a successor POA agent listed as well. It may be a family member or close friend you trust. If your POA needs to be put to use, the agent is empowered to make decisions in your stead as you would have made them if you were able.
2. Health Care Directive – This document provides your health care POA with direction about your health care desires. Frequently, directives include your preference on if you wish to receive artificial nutrition or hydration as medical treatment. Your health care agent has the responsibility to follow your wishes as specified in the directive.
3. Beneficiary designation forms – Many people will have life insurance, as well as retirement and deposit accounts, for which they’re asked to list a beneficiary who will receive the benefits of said account when the account holder passes away. The financial institution that holds the account will have the beneficiary information saved on file, but it’s a good idea to keep a summary of all accounts, where they’re held, the account numbers and the types of accounts with your estate planning documents. This helps beneficiaries to locate all of your assets when you aren’t able to provide direction.
4. Philanthropy – The estate planning process is an excellent time to discuss philanthropic plans for your estate. If you pass away without properly executed estate planning documents, state laws establish who will receive your assets, with wealth generally passing to children, parents, siblings or more distant kin. Charitable gifts can only be made at death by will, revocable trust or beneficiary designation. Also, unmarried couples who wish to have their estate benefit each other must execute wills or a revocable trust making such provisions, or risk costly litigation at death.
“Thanks to marriage equality laws, married same-sex couples now have planning opportunities available to all others, such as estate transfer rules, survivor/employer benefits and access to Social Security or disability insurance,” said Tilghman-Havens. “However, these opportunities are still new and unfamiliar to many. LGBT couples should approach their financial, tax and legal advisors to review their options and ensure that their estate plan reflects their goals.”
This can be accomplished through these steps:
1. Start early – As soon as you leave your parents’ house and develop a household of your own, you can benefit from establishing an estate plan. It’s hard to think about the what-if’s, but if something were to happen to your health, leaving you unable to communicate, the health directive would help your loved ones to make difficult decisions. Or if you were to pass away and you own property, you have a say in what will happen to that property. It’s important to be clear about your desires and to be prepared for multiple situations.
2. Make changes – As your life changes, you should review and possibly update your estate plan. These changes can include marriage, adoption or birth of children, divorce, significant changes in wealth, major purchases and retirement.
3. Communicate – Surprises aren’t always a good thing, and often loved ones are more accepting and responsive to a person’s wishes expressed in their estate plan if they’re aware of those wishes in advance. In addition, your wishes may be acted upon in a faster, more efficient manner if people are aware of their roles as agent under a POA or beneficiaries.
Estate planning is a tool everyone should use, no matter how many people are in the family, their age or if they plan to leave all their money to charity. If you haven’t taken the time to establish an estate plan, schedule a visit with your financial, legal and tax advisors to get it set up.