The Best Way to Start the Estate Planning Process

One thing is certain with estate planning: we MUST talk about it. A good conversation about your estate wishes could help bridge the present and future.

Recently, I came across an article in the Journal for Financial Planning that could help you start the estate planning process. The article was about a financial advisor that asked the question: If I die, what happens to the business? This question spawned several scenarios which exposed flaws in their business transition plan. The same idea can be applied to your personal estate plan.

Ask the question, if I die, what will happen? If your spouse is anything like mine, you’ll have a hard time dealing with this question because it forces you to think about the inevitable. Nobody wants to contemplate their mortality. But it is crucial because it can expose problems with your estate plan.

Sit down with your spouse and walk through the process of what will happen if one, or both of you dies. Ask questions like:

  • Do you each know where ALL your accounts are located?
  • Are they titled so that either of you could go to the bank and get information while you are waiting for death certificates to be issued?
  • What are the phone numbers of your advisors?
  • Do you have enough in liquid savings to pay the bills for a couple months?

These are especially good questions to ask if you have one spouse that handles all the money. If this is the case, you might even ask the non-financial spouse questions like- how many bank accounts do we have? Where are they? Who owns them? How would you contact them?

These questions tell you how knowledgeable you each are of your finances. More importantly, they may prevent some financial surprises.

FYI – The best place to gather this information is your tax return. A tax return will show you where you are receiving interest and dividends which tells you where you are banking and investing.

Talking about death is hard enough. Dealing with death and not being prepared for it is an entirely different thing. I’ve sat across the table from clients that said that their parents’ estate plan went smoothly, and I’ve also sat with clients that didn’t have such a good experience. By asking the tough questions you give your spouse something invaluable after you’ve passed: time to mourn.

About the author

Richard T. Feight, CFP®

Among independent financial advisors, Mr. Feight is one of the most well known and highly respected “Fee-Only” financial planners. Since 1997, Rich has dedicated his career to offering low cost “Fee-Only” comprehensive financial planning and investment advice. Rich assists his clients in organizing their finances so that they can retire on time.Rich is a graduate of Michigan State University where he received his degree in Finance. Rich has earned the Certificate of Financial Planning from The College for Financial Planning in Denver , Colorado that was comprised of intense graduate level classes grounding him in the various foundations of financial planning. He is a CFP® (Certified Financial Planner®) since 2001, meeting the experience, education requirements and passing the two-day, 10 hour exam, making him one of the few in the country who hold the designation. Since 2003, Rich has subscribed to the stringent and mandatory annual educational hours, experience, and code of ethics to meet the requirements to be a NAPFA Registered Financial Advisor. Out of the 800,000 individuals in the country who claim they are financial advisors/planners, fewer than 1,300 in the country qualify for the membership; Rich is one of them.

Rich is the President of the Financial Planning Association (FPA) of Michigan . The FPA of Michigan is one of largest and influential chapter in the country. Rich was recently named President for Transportation Toastmasters Club 4776 downtown Lansing . He has been quoted in both local and national media from Noise Magazine to CNBC, and Bloomberg, and industry news publications such as Investment News and Financial Advisor Magazine. Rich enjoys public speaking and has spoke at industry educational meeting, high schools, and executive investment clubs, AARP conferences, and business educational seminars for companies looking to educate their employees. Rich views his role as a Fiduciary for his clients as the single biggest key to any planning relationship and strives to provide the most competent, unbiased and objective advice in the financial planning profession today.

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