Don’t Procrastinate – Prepare an Estate Plan
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BECKY RASPE | SPECIAL SECTIONS STAFF REPORTER
Tasks that are not fun or interesting often lead to procrastination.
According to Grant Davis, managing director at Raymond James & Associates in Beachwood; Judith Shenkman, executive director of American Friends of Hebrew University Midwest Region in Chicago; and Carol F. Wolf, assistant vice president of planned giving and endowment of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland in Beachwood, estate planning shouldn’t be put off.
“Advance estate planning gives people the power to control and direct how their assets and estate will be ultimately distributed,” Shenkman said. “It enables individuals and couples to protect their financial assets for the benefit of their loved ones and to decide how best to provide for future generations.”
Individuals postpone estate planning for various reasons.
“The most common reason is they don’t want to think about dying,” Wolf said. “They don’t want to even consider it. A lot of people think of this as recognizing death and many don’t like that. Also, another reason is that the decision is difficult. They know this could cause a rift in the family. ... It’s very easy to procrastinate.”
Davis added, “Often it takes time to reflect on some of the key decisions involved. It is not something that should be rushed. Also, it is more about living than dying, and things often change in one’s life which affect your planning.”
Another reason, Davis said, is individuals think estate planning is difficult.
Procrastinating in filing an estate plan could result in the individual dying without one. Having an estate plan is the only way one can be assured their wishes will be followed.
“In the absence of a will or trust, the state will decide about the disposition of a person’s individually owned assets,” Shenkman explained. “Advance planning takes into account the desirability of keeping one’s assets from probate. If you would like your children, grandchildren or other special individuals to benefit from your estate, it is useful to develop a carefully crafted estate plan in consultation with your attorney.”
Wolf added, “What can happen is there may be tax issues for your family. There may be assets that people don’t know about. If you haven’t done any planning and your family doesn’t know where the assets are, they may get lost.”
Davis said, “You could have costs associated with not planning properly. (There could be) privacy issues if the probate courts become involved. But mostly, (it is) having the wrong person who either didn’t expect to be involved or is unwilling or incapable of assisting with the process.”
If someone has charitable intent, both Wolf and Shenkman said procrastination can jeopardize that in the event there is death without proper plans.
“As far as charities go, the organizations that you may have supported your whole life, won’t get anything,” Wolf stated. “If you have charitable intent, planning is essential. If you don’t do it at all, no one will get anything beyond your next of kin. No one will know your wishes about that.”
Shenkman added, “Advance estate planning can result in truly high-impact philanthropy along with the creation of a personal legacy that empowers future generations to succeed and innovate.”
Filing an estate plan early can have many benefits, both tangible and intangible.
“It would give clients reassurance to know things are in order, but also there are many potential cost savings,” Davis stated. “Since the recent tax changes, estate planning is less about tax avoidance than it is about control of who has access to what and when.”
Davis said, “The tangible benefit is you make sure your assets go where you wish. The intangible part is this gives you the opportunity to have sensitive and important discussions with your family. Those are conversations that happen when you actually sit down and have a plan.”