Legacy, estate planning as important as retirement

People always talk about their plans for retirement, and they spend a good portion of their lives saving money in retirement accounts so they can maintain their lifestyles in their later years. But planning for the future isn’t just about retirement accounts or what you want to do with all of your free time.

According to financial experts, people also need to plan for what comes after their retirement—end-of-life planning.

That means legacy and estate planning, life insurance, long-term care and burial preparations.

Many people don’t want to talk about their own mortality, so they avoid planning for it.

The single biggest gap in legacy and estate planning is education, said David Richmond, president of Richmond Brothers, a registered investment advisory firm in Michigan.

“Do parents talk to their kids as they age about their money and how it is going to come to them? Do we teach, as an American culture, how to give money away or how to manage money? It is not taught in high school or college. It is not taught anywhere,” he said.

Wealthier families have always taught these things because they have more money to pass down, but conversations about money should take place in all families, regardless of income.

Many people believe their future planning is complete if they draw up a will, but it is much more complicated than that, especially for the affluent who have more money to pass on to future generations.

When speaking with his clients, Richmond tells them they first need to plan for their now money, their later money and their never money, or money they don’t plan to touch during their lifetimes.

Estate planners draw up wills and trusts; accountants deal with taxes and financial advisors handle clients’ investments, but who quarterbacks the legacy planning?

If you are never going to need your never money, what is the best way to inherit it? said Richmond.

He speaks to his clients about how to protect their money from taxation so more money can be handed down to future generations. He talks about stretch IRAs and stretch Roth IRAs, which allow people to pass on their money to the next two generations. The money can build and grow for many years to come, if managed properly, he said.

Another key component is educating your family. Richmond used a Tiger Woods analogy to illustrate this point.

The question he poses to clients is, do you want your children to inherit your trophies and money or do you want them to inherit the swing so they can go make their own money?

“What we’ve done the last few years is give them trophies and never teach them to swing. Only 3 percent of money lasts three generations or more. That is ridiculously bad,” Richmond said. ”People don’t know what to do with it or how to use it. We haven’t prepared them well.”

Individuals need to meet with their families and discuss money matters from an early age. Children need to know what types of charitable giving their parents participate in and they need to know where their money is and how it is managed so they will be better prepared to manage their own money and their inheritance when they get older, he said.

Individuals need to make sure their documents are current. They need to review them every so often to make sure that what people think they will receive when they die is what they will actually receive, said John McManus, founding principal at McManus & Associates, an estates and trusts law firm in New York.

That means reviewing documents and walking through their provisions, deciding how they want to dispose of their assets and naming representatives who will make sure their assets are distributed as they intended.

There is a catch 22, however. Many people don’t realize that beneficiary designations on life insurance policies and retirement accounts trump whatever is written in a final will and testament.

Many parents place one of their children on their accounts as a joint account holder so they can help pay bills. What most people don’t realize is that when the parent passes away, no matter what is listed in the will, the person who is listed on the joint account will inherit that money. This can cause many problems among other beneficiaries who believe they are entitled to their share of that money, McManus said.

Each state has its own exemption when it comes to estate taxes. Some states, like New York, will allow individuals to pass down the first $1 million to heirs tax free. Anything above that $1 million will be taxed. McManus counsels his clients to gift that money while they are still alive to avoid hefty taxation later.

Life insurance and long-term care insurance are also options people planning for their futures must consider, said Michael Babikian, president and CEO of Transamerica Brokerage.

Many government safety nets, like Social Security and defined benefit pension plans, are disappearing, he said, and as people near retirement and begin to plan, especially the Baby Boomers, “they are realizing that their children and grandchildren are not necessarily going to have the same opportunities or safety nets they’ve had throughout their lifetime.”

Transamerica Brokerage offers an income protection option to its life insurance policies, which allows the money to be distributed as a guaranteed income stream for up to 25 years instead of being doled out in a single lump sum.

“We are finding a lot more interest in that,” he said. “What we find is consumers know the issues they face, but they don’t know solutions are out there.”

He recommends people set up a living trust, but many people don’t want to go through the rigorous process to do that. Many want to maintain some level of control over their assets while keeping some measure of flexibility, just in case they need that money in the future.

Long-term care policies are also a good idea. They help individuals plan for a time when they can no longer care for themselves, but they don’t want their financial resources to be depleted because of an ailment toward the end of their life, he said.

Stand-alone long-term care policies are popular, but Babikian said a hybrid plan his company offers is even more so. It offers a long-term care rider to a life insurance policy. It is there if the client needs long-term care in the future, but if they don’t tap those funds, the money can be paid out as part of their death benefit.

Baby Boomers face difficulties in financial planning because they are in the “sandwich” generation. They are taking care of elderly parents and boomerang children. Both of these things take away from their own legacy and estate planning.

Younger generations will face additional challenges when it comes to end-of-life planning. Most will rely on a 401(k) plan or their own savings to get them through retirement, rather than pensions or government benefits. This opens up additional opportunities for advisors who want to cater to the very different outlooks and needs of Generation X, Generation Y and the Millennials.

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