Estate Planning is not just for the wealthy. You don’t even have to be in the upper-middle class. A modest household can too enjoy the same benefits as the top 1% because an intentional life is for everyone.
If you are in the middle class, here are four ways that an estate plan can make your life and your family’s life better!
Often, when a person has a net worth over $2,700,000, they include lifetime gifts and charitable contributions in their estate plan in order to reduce their total estate so as not to pay estate taxes.
That is typically not a concern for the middle class.
Nevertheless, a good estate plan always includes a roadmap of gift giving. Yes, we always think at the back of our minds that we will one day give a gift to our sister, father, cousin, nephew, and so on, but in reality, unless gift giving is planned and scheduled, we tend to find ourselves living paycheck to paycheck and when it comes time for Christmas or birthday, we just buy whatever item we can find in the store that fits our budget.
While you may be ok with last minute random gift shopping, there is something refreshing and empowering in intentional gift giving.
When you are creating your estate plan, make a spreadsheet of lifetime gifts that you would like to make, including the type of gift, date of giving, and expected dollar value. To avoid having to pay a gift tax, keep the total gifts you give each person under $15,000 per year.
Then make a note for each gift detailing a plan on how you will make that gift a reality. Will you save $25 from each pay check? Will you lease a car for yourself and gift your old Honda to your son? Will you invest money in a mutual fund? Will you sell your home after the children move out, downsize, and use the remaining funds to finally take your mother on that cruise that she has always dreamed about?
The beauty of giving gifts is that it invokes compassion and excitement in the gift giver, which motivates and disciplines the giver to save, budget, and invest—all skills that can then be applied to improve your own life and make it more enjoyable.
Part of creating an estate plan includes writing a letter to your loved ones. When someone passes away, there are always a lot of questions remaining. Did he know how much I loved him? Did she ever forgive me? Why was I left out of the will? Why was everything given to me? Would she be upset if I sell the family home? Can I really be the guardian of my nephews? Am I even suited to parent?
Give your loved ones closure. Answer these questions. Write your letters that will be handed out after your funeral along with the will reading. Make a list of specific items that you would like to give to specific individuals, including an explanation as to why and what it means to you for them to have it.
For most people, estate planning is all about passing along wealth to their children and grandchildren. For a middle class family, that means giving your children an opportunity to move out of the middle class and into the upper class. How? By buying life insurance policies, investing money, and creating trusts.
A good estate plan usually includes a testamentary trust, which is created after you pass away. It is funded by the remainder of your estate—meaning anything and everything you own that is not given to a specific person and is not used to pay for personal debt, funeral costs, or estate administration. Depending on how much wealth you accumulated during your life, how much retirement investment you have left over, and how much life insurance you purchased—the trust can end up with a significant sum.
Of course, how far your trust will go will depend on how many beneficiaries you designate. You can name as few or as many as you’d like. It could be just your children, or your children and grandchildren, or even remote family members and friends. You can have the beneficiaries manage and administer the trust, i.e. be the Trustees or you can choose someone who is financially savvy including a financial institution.
The Trustee has the power to invest the trust funds and to grow your estate beyond its original size. This can mean buying a rental property to earn rental income, investing in stocks, and even continuing to operate your business. By doing so, your wealth can continue growing, potentially allowing your children and grandchildren (or other beneficiaries) to move out of the middle class and into the upper class.
Sometimes, an estate plan can be nothing more than a tool to relieve the burden of estate administration and funeral preparation from your family members. If you die without estate planning, your family will have to go to court in order to receive anything from your estate. This means paying court fees, paying for a lawyer, potentially fighting with other family members, and much more—all things that a grieving family might not want to be doing during such a difficult time.
By preparing for your death, you can help your family avoid this. Even if you die leaving nothing more than $100 in your bank account, you will still be doing your family a major favor by making the estate administration process simple.
Similarly, while it is common for family members to be responsible for funeral preparations, doing so while grieving is challenging. Remove that burden from your family members by making funeral preparations in advance. Many funeral homes allow you to purchase and make arrangements in advance, including setting up a payment plan. Speak with your local funeral home customer representative to learn how they can help you help your family.
If you would like to benefit from an estate plan, schedule a time to talk. We'd love to work with you in making the best plan for you and your family.