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Author: Russell C. Lindsay
March 8, 2017

Over the years I’ve had many opportunities to sit down with families and small business owners and learn about the important plans for their future. Some of the things I hear are leaving a legacy to their family, taking care of a family member who might not be able to take care of themselves, protecting the business if something happens unexpectedly, leaving a bequest to a favorite charity, and many other goals specific to their situations. You are not alone, there are a lot of things to consider and think about.

It is important to understand the differences which could mean lowering exposure to taxes, allowing assets to transfer with ease, and avoiding a fire sale of a business due to improper planning. Have you ever wondered if you should set up a will, or if your family needs a trust, or all of the above?

I am a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Financial Planner. At our firm, we work with families and small business owners who are looking for trusted advice on how to best plan for their future. For more than 10 years we have helped to plan for and mitigate the fears of what will happen when our clients experience a loss in their family. We’ve helped to set up plans to care for special needs children and children who are free-spending and carefree. We’ve also advised on business sales from one generation to the next and how to protect the family business in the event of an untimely death.

Knowing whether you need a will, a trust, or all of the above is a difficult decision many families and business owners face.  

No two situations are alike, but many are similar. That is until personalities get involved. Who calls the shots in the family? What are the financial personalities of each person? Are they spenders, savers, givers, or a little bit of everything? Do both spouses know how to manage their money, taxes, and investments or does one spouse do it all? If a family business is involved it gets even more complicated. What if the owner dies suddenly? Are there measures in place to keep the business running or will the operations of the business get put on hold while courts, attorneys, and the estate settling process are drawn out over a long period of time? Who will oversee the finances?

There are many risks to consider…and we are probably just scratching the surface. Depending on the situation, a will might be adequate. Or in other circumstances a will might not be enough. A trust might be the answer. So you might be asking yourself…what about me? What factors do I even need to consider?

Let’s boil it down to 7 areas of focus:

  1. Location - Where you live

Each state has different laws so you want to understand the pros and cons of your state.

  1. Assets – Types of things you own

Will it matter if you have to go through probate with your assets?This process usually takes a year or more.Will a long probate process harm your assets?

  1. Taxes – How much Uncle Sam will take

Will you owe Estate tax?Is there a way to avoid estate taxes so Uncle Sam doesn’t take what you worked so hard over your lifetime to accumulate?

  1. Beneficiaries - Family, charity or friend you want to take care of when you’re gone

Do you have someone in your family with special needs, or do you have young children or maybe even pets that you want to make sure are provided for after you are gone?

  1. Financial Situation - Where you are in your current walk in life

A trust might be overkill and is more expensive than a will.Make sure you understand how your assets might grow between now and retirement and then after your passing.Don’t forget to think about what the future might hold.

  1. Executor or Trustee - Who you trust to carry out your wishes

After you are gone this is the person who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes and making sure all the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted.Do you trust them enough to ensure it will be done correctly or that you have the right advisors in place to assist them?

  1. Avoiding Probate -Difficult family member that might contest your wishes after you die
If this is the case, will the probate process carry on and harm your assets or beneficiaries? Is there a way to avoid this?

The Winning Strategy

The strategy….”the plan is there is no plan” is certainly not the winning strategy I would suggest. Start with thinking about the 7 areas of focus above, and give them each some thought. Talk it over with your spouse, significant other and/or business partners. After you have a good feel, consider how much control you want to maintain and also is this control enough or as they say…”are you controlling from the grave?” Then talk to a friend or colleague and find an advisor you trust to get your plan on paper. They will help you figure out if a will, trust, or both will be best for you and your situation. Don't wait or make excuses because you never know what the future holds. You'll have great peace of mind when you are finished and your family will be glad you took the time to perfect your plan.

 Have questions?

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