Recently, I visited a family member thousands of miles away. Sadly, she has a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease living in an assisted-living facility, and only long-distance family members. Part of the reason for my trip was helping her get her estate in order.
Prior to my visit, I knew she had her will in order, ongoing care in place for her spouse, funeral arrangements made, and monies set aside to cover final expenses but I knew very little else. While the saying “knowledge is power” might not be used often in an estate planning context, I expect it will go a long way towards minimizing stress at what will be an emotionally sensitive time, and avoid hasty and possibly regrettable decisions being made.
It should also be noted that the estate tax legislation included within the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 continues the 2011 exemption of $5 million (indexed for inflation) for an individual and a $10 million exemption for married couples. While for many families this may lessen their need to address the financial aspects of their estate plan, the need to address the non-financial aspects continues for all.
The non-financial aspects
During the visit she showed me where all of her important papers are kept and gave me the contact information for her lawyer and financial advisor. By taking mere minutes to do this, we avoided a stressful future situation that would have likely resulted in unnecessarily turning the house upside down looking for this information.
Unfortunately, what I quickly realized upon my return from this trip is that we should have further taken advantage of the time and discussed her personal items.
- For some items, this could have meant suggesting she start giving them away now as a way of eliminating the need to deal with the items when the times comes. This strategy also has a potential secondary benefit of allowing her the opportunity to see others enjoy them.
- For other items, this could have simply meant discussing and noting items of particular importance because of their family history or value, such that when the time comes they do not end up in the wrong hands. By not having had this conversation, the risk of giving away an item that has been in the family for years or becoming part of a story on Antiques Roadshow where a “man buys $4 painting at estate sale worth $4 million” looms large.
- Lastly, because there are only long-distance family members and likely, no one able to reside at her home for an extended period, we should have discussed the idea of using an estate liquidation company to help facilitate the transition. Using an estate liquidation company to handle tasks such as selling the remaining contents of the home and staging the property for sale would ease the transition.
Financial advisors should remember that although planning for the financial aspects of the estate is and always will be the primary focus, relationships with clients and their families could benefit greatly by encouraging conversation on the non-financial aspects of the estate plan. Clients will appreciate that extra guidance and support, leading to deeper trust and stronger relationships.