The Team Behind a Successful Estate Plan

Vested Partners A Multi-Family Office Blog

Human nature is such that we often tend to focus on the bigger and more important steps. That’s a good thing, but it doesn’t negate the need to address the secondary coordination steps.

Most advisors stick with their areas of knowledge. The estate planning attorney drafts the necessary documents, your CPA files tax returns and the investment advisor fine tunes assets. However, coordinating these professional silos is critical to ensuring your estate plan works, says a recent article from Forbes, “Your Estate Plan Must Be Coordinated To Work.”  At Vested Partners, Robyn and Jennifer are estate planning attorneys, and David is a Certified Financial Planner and insurance broker. Working together, we make coordinating your estate planning more convenient for you.

Communication needs to extend past advisors to key loved ones and people you name in roles, such as agents, trustees and executors. Many people find these discussions awkward. However, preparing heirs and fiduciaries for their roles and setting expectations is a crucial step to avoid issues during transition periods. Some of the most significant estate planning problems arise when the baton is passed, such as if you fall and become incapacitated. You need to be sure your agents know what is expected of them and when they will be called upon to perform their respective tasks.

Coordinating advisor actions will save time and expense in the long run. Your estate planning attorney, CPA, trust officer, wealth advisor and insurance broker should know what each other is doing on your behalf. Many people shy away from doing this because of concerns about cost. However, not doing it can lead to much larger expenses.

You want to foster coordination and collaboration, in a controlled and cost-effective manner. One way to do this is to have advisors prepare a summary of key points, facts and decisions following your meetings, so you can circulate it to other advisors. This way they all know what is being done and can share their knowledge and experience if they think something is wrong or won’t work as planned.

One example of what can happen when advisors are not coordinated is paying bills from incorrect accounts. For instance, if you incur legal fees for the estate plan but pay them from a trust account or business entity, a creditor could argue this is a personal benefit from a trust you are not a beneficiary of, or you’ve violated the business purpose of an entity, which could expose all trust or entity assets.

Your estate planning attorney should know how your assets are titled, which are owned jointly, or other designations used to avoid the terms of your will and/or any trusts. Beneficiary designations, wills and titles must be planned and coordinated to avoid derailing your estate plan.

If you die and an asset is owned in your name only, the asset will go through probate and be distributed according to the terms of your will. If you are incapacitated, your agent, under your financial Power of Attorney, must act concerning the asset to help pay bills.

Many people opt to have assets held in a joint name so that on death, the asset will pass to the named joint owner without going through the will and probate. If the person named as the joint owner is not the same as the POA, you may have created a logistical nightmare. How will the POA pay bills if the joint owner does not cooperate?

Coordinating professional advisers is as important as coordinating family members. There are many different agents and positions to be appointed. People often sign a financial POA with their estate planning attorney, and no one looks closely at any conflicting appointments.

The same kind of issues occur with health care agents. In Virginia, typically your living will and medical power of attorney are contained in one document called an Advance Medical Directive.  Sometimes there can be multiple documents such as one you sign at the hospital before a procedure, and one you sign at your attorneys office. Make sure to get rid of old Advance Medical Directive documents to avoid confusion. Also, with respect to health care decisions, your physicians can become an important part of your team, and sharing your Advance Medical Directive with your health care providers in advance is an important step in making them part of your team.

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 31, 2023) “Your Estate Plan Must Be Coordinated To Work”

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