One of the most valuable services a financial planner can provide is assisting older clients with a family wealth transfer plan. Typically, these are people who have spent a lifetime building a significant estate, and they are very concerned about directing how their assets will be distributed upon their passing. They are also keenly conscious of their responsibilities to their children, grandchildren, and the causes or organizations they care about. All of these are vital reasons for careful consideration to a family wealth transfer strategy that is tailored specifically to the client’s situation and priorities. Here are four of the important steps that should be a part of any family wealth transfer plan.
1. Assess the optimal transfer vehicle.
Most people automatically assume that a properly drawn will is the best way to guarantee a smooth transfer of assets upon death, but this is not always the case. In some situations, a revocable trust may be more advantageous. As clients begin forming their plans, this decision should be foundational to all other arrangements.
2. Ensure that assets are titled in a non-contradictory way.
If the planning strategy determines that assets should be held in a trust, ownership of assets should be in a form that takes this into consideration. For example, an investment portfolio held in a joint tenancy account with rights of survivorship will pass to the surviving joint tenant, no matter what the will or trust document says. If the intention is to use a trust to ensure the client’s wishes are carried out, then assets in the trust must conform.
3. Take advantage of the annual gift exemption.
The annual gift exemption was increased for 2018, from $13,000 per individual up to $15,000. And that applies to each individual recipient. So, a husband and wife with four children could gift as much as $120,000 per year, reducing the size of their taxable estate in each instance. A program of planned annual gifting is an important wealth transfer tool that is often overlooked.
4. Review all documents annually.
One of the most common estate planning mistakes that I see is the use of out-of-date documents. I strongly urge clients to make an appointment with their financial planners and/or tax consultants each year. Estate planning documents should be reviewed in light of any changes in the client’s marital, health, or business circumstances. Births, deaths, divorces, and other major life changes in the client’s immediate family should be considered. Purchase or sale of businesses or new roles in a business for members of the family should be reviewed. The client’s philanthropic priorities should be re-assessed, with any changes or updates reflected in the documents.
As in all considerations involving finance and financial planning, the services of a qualified professional planner can prove invaluable. By providing advice and recommendations that put your needs first, a professional planner will help you devise a strategy that ensures your family’s future security and your present peace of mind.
Stay Diversified, Stay Your Course!