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Posts Tagged ‘beneficiary’

Saturday was a beautiful spring day in New England. Temperatures were moderate.  No humidity.  It was bright and sunny with languid puffy clouds hanging in the noon time breeze.  A beautiful day to be outside especially after the gloomy weather that Mother Nature has thrown at us during the winter and spring so far. A beautiful day for gathering with family and friends and celebrating the milestones of life whether a birth, a marriage, a graduation or connecting with others.

It so happened that I was attending the funeral celebration for a friend and client. Celebration is the right word.  While sadness always is part of these things, it truly was more fitting and proper to highlight and remember the qualities that we all should aspire to.

In this case we were gathered to celebrate a sister, aunt, daughter and friend who lived fully during her short 50 odd years.  A global traveler, talented cook and baker, gifted woodworker and gardener and charitable sort who always thought of others less fortunate.

Regardless of one’s religious persuasion, the celebrant of this service, a Roman Catholic priest, expressed it best when he said that many of us think a long life is synonymous of a good life.  But in reality, he emphasized, the teachings of many religions focus on the quality of life as opposed to its length. And this person, my friend and the sister of my very best friend, truly made her short time in the temporal world full and rich.

Like a light switch, one moment someone’s vivacious smile is there and in the next instant it is gone leaving us only with the warm glow of memory.  Whether it is better to have a sudden death or have time to prepare for the inevitable is a constant debate.  In this case, my friend was there one moment and in the next she was gone.

Inevitably, when confronted with such sudden tragedy, we tend to think of our own mortality.  I recall after the Twin Towers came down in NYC, how families were drawn closer together even if they didn’t have a direct connection to the victims of the terrorist attack.  And the interest in insurance and estate planning was at a high point.  Lawyer friends reported doing more wills and guardianship plans.  Insurance agents were fielding calls for new insurance policies.

It shouldn’t take a tragedy – whether public or personal – to get people motivated to act in their best interests but we are frail humans and tend to look at the present disregarding the future.

But we do that at our own peril.

Someday is Today

A person with friends is truly rich – remember “It’s a Wonderful Life.” While I truly believe that sentiment, it doesn’t mean abdicating one’s responsibility to care for family and friends by skipping the planning.

It is frustrating to be a financial planner and in trying to deal with such issues receive either blank stares or promises to deal with it later. At other times there is the all-encompassing answer to all: I’m All Set.

  • Someday, I’ll draft a will.
  • Someday, I’ll check my insurance coverage.
  • Someday, I’ll talk to my brother (or sister or friend) about guardianship of the kids.
  • Someday, I’ll deal with all these financial planning issues.

Someday is now.

Planning for the inevitable is not for you.  It is to help others.  It is selfish to think that things will just take of themselves.  Sure, plans will together.  But the stress on the family, friends and loved ones left to deal with picking up the pieces is not something you should burden someone with lightly when taking a few steps will help smooth the transition.

  1. At the very least, get a Will.  You don’t need to be rich to have one of these.  Better yet, make sure you have a Durable Power of Attorney in place so that your financial affairs can be coordinated.
  2. Review and update your Will periodically. Even if you do have a Will doesn’t mean that it still works for you.  Times change and so do tax and estate laws.
  3. Include written instructions.  Do you want to be buried or cremated? Who do you want to have certain sentimental, personal effects?
  4. Have a list of online passwords for your banking and social media accounts in a safe but accessible place.  Without them your heirs will have trouble dealing with some of your financial matters or your social media accounts could possibly be shut off.  And since most of our lives and communications are now so much online, your family might not be able to notify your extended network of your passing unless they can get online.
  5. Review your insurance as part of a comprehensive financial needs analysis regularly.  Too often people simply think that what they have in place covers them regardless of the simple fact that personal circumstances change and dictate changes in coverage.
  6. If you own property and have a mortgage or have young kids who would be raised by someone else when you’re gone, make sure you have insurance that at least covers the bills.  This means having a term insurance policy for at least the balance of the mortgage.  And if you have kids, figure out the costs to raise them (and pay for college maybe) and put a policy in place to equal that.  Otherwise, you may be leaving a spouse, friend, family member or business partner with trying to carry the costs without benefit of the resources.
  7. Check and update the beneficiaries on insurance policies, annuities, company-sponsored 401ks and personal IRAs. Maybe you had a divorce and never updated this so your ex-spouse may be the unintended recipient.  Or new kids, nieces or nephews have been born since the last time you did this.

In my banking and financial planning careers, I have seen both personally and professionally the impact on survivors left behind to pick up the pieces.  There was the client who needed to refinance to help pay for an elder parent’s funeral.  There was the friend who battled bravely against cancer but eventually succumbed leaving behind a wife, a three-year old toddler and a mortgage.

The pain caused by the loss of a loved one doesn’t need to be compounded by the stress, frustration and confusion of having to unexpectedly deal with financial challenges.

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After a marriage breaks up, about the last thing most people want to do is sit down with one more attorney. But no matter how old you are or whether you have kids, it’s important to consult both financial and legal experts to make sure you have an updated estate and financial plan for your new life once the divorce decree is final.

It’s also best to blend estate planning with financial planning post-divorce. If you weren’t working with a financial or estate planner during the divorce process, it’s time to do so now. The immediate months after a divorce can be disorienting – even if you don’t move, you are literally starting a new household that you will have to direct yourself, and that means new money issues to face.

This is why the weeks immediately after a divorce are a good time to revisit short- and long-term spending and planning goals. Here’s a general road map to that process:

Start with a financial planner: Whether you plan to stay single, remarry or move in with a new partner, it’s good to get a baseline look at your finances as early as possible after the divorce is final.  Expenses for the newly single can pile up quickly and unexpectedly, and a financial planning professional can help you review your new current spending and savings needs, compare strategies to achieve long-term goals like college and retirement and give you critical tools to protect your assets and loved ones if you die suddenly. Even if you have a good relationship with an ex-spouse and you addressed key issues for your children as part of the divorce proceedings, you need to revisit all these issues as a single individual before you move on to the next stage.

Talk with a trained estate planning attorney about wills and other critical documents: True, there are software programs and other kit solutions available to write basic wills, powers of attorney and certain simple trust agreements. But it makes sense to coordinate the activities of a financial planner with an estate planning attorney who can tailor an overall estate plan specific to your needs no matter how basic they might be right now. Even if you are very young with few assets, it makes sense to get some solid advice in this area so you’ll be able to manage such planning as you age and your finances get more complex.

Particularly if you have kids, such planning is important if you plan to remarry and if you want to guarantee that specific assets are guaranteed for them when you die.  In some cases where a spouse dies unmarried with minor children, an ex-spouse might automatically gain control of assets that were supposed to be earmarked for the kids. If you don’t want that to happen, you need to plan for that legally.

Make a guardianship game plan for your kids: It’s not enough to plan how money and assets will go to your children if you or your ex-spouse die suddenly or are incapacitated.  If your children are minors, it’s particularly important to make sure you and your ex-spouse have a guardianship plan for their upbringing as well as any assets they may inherit. You might completely trust your ex-spouse’s new husband, wife or partner to raise your kids if your ex-spouse dies before you, but there may be others better-equipped to do so – spell that out now.  Also, if there are any trust or wealth issues that will become effective for your children once they reach adulthood, it’s also important to establish an efficient legal structure for distributing those assets as well as appointing a trustee in a will to train and guide your kids through that financial transition.

Plan for special needs kids: If one of your children is disabled and is expected to need lifetime assistance of some type, then you should consult a qualified attorney to help you create a special needs trust. It will help protect your child from having to give up any public or social financial assistance as well as access to special doctors, medical help, special prescriptions or treatments that could be taken away if they were to personally inherit assets that would disqualify them for these programs. When such assets are held in trust, they are not counted as the child’s assets. The advantage is that those inherited assets may still be used to support their housing or other personal living needs without adversely impacting qualifying for government aid programs.

Get solid protection in place:  Most people focus on what may happen to their health insurance if they get divorced, but insurance issues like life, property/casualty and disability insurance are sometimes put on the back burner.  If you’re newly single, you definitely need the best health coverage you can afford for yourself and your kids, but life, property, liability and disability insurance becomes doubly important, particularly if you failed to address those needs during the divorce.  Even if your ex-spouse is cooperative with financial support, it’s wise to insure yourself as if they weren’t. A financial planner should be able to go through those options in detail.

Review all your investments for primary ownership and beneficiary information: Even if you were advised correctly to change the names on assets you and your spouse were dividing between yourselves, it still makes sense post-divorce to review that the names are indeed correct on those assets, and most important, to make sure all beneficiary information is correct.

Manage Your “Windfall”:  People may mistakenly believe that that as smart as they are in other areas in life that they can make investing decisions after going through an emotionally-trying event like divorce.  It’s important to not be blinded by the suddend windfall one might receive.  There are long-term issues to consider.  And as tempting as it may be to blow off some steam with a vacation, a new car or truck or even a wardrobe, people have to think about the day after tomorrow.

That’s why it’s important not to go overboard with a little needed R&R but stash the majority of what may be received into cash to help supplement the emergency fund, cover debt service and any future moves in career or home. By meeting with a financial planner professional soon after the divorce, one can outline short- and longer-term goals to get prepared. Save any drastic changes to investment allocations or decisions to when things get settled down (maybe 3 or 6 months after the divorce is final).

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