If you or your parents have a retirement account, (or any investment accounts for that matter) now is a perfect time to get connected to how those accounts are invested. While you may have outsourced all of this to a broker, which is fine, I don’t believe you should ever allow your investments to be made without your clear understanding of exactly what you are investing in as well as how and whether your investments align with your plans for the future.  

Some brokers and advisors believe this, too. Unfortunately, because it takes more time to ensure you understand your investments, many brokers and advisors would rather keep you in the dark. Now is not the time (or ever, really) for you to be okay with being in the dark about your investments.

Educate Yourself
If you or your parents have a retirement account, and you are not intimately connected to how those assets are being invested, it’s time to get more involved.

Log in to your retirement account or pull your last statement and look. Many brokerages select investment funds for their clients’ portfolios based on rates of growth. They’ll offer investment options based on a few tiers of growth and risk, and very often you have no idea what your assets are actually invested in.

Labels like “slow-growth” or “conservative” or “high-growth” or “income” aren’t enough to tell you exactly where your money is invested. So, what you want to do now is look at your statement, which should contain the names of the funds chosen for you, and you can go from there to do your research. Look up each of the funds on sites like Yahoo Finance to see what you are investing in, and whether you understand these companies, believe in their future growth, and want to stay invested there.

Go through this process with your parents, too. The money they have invested in the stock market is part of your overall family wealth. If it’s not there to support them through their senior years, that financial responsibility will eventually fall to you. Having these conversations with them now can be difficult, but it’s important.

If you have a broker you work with, call them now, and ask to get on a video conference. Then, have them help you review each investment, why it’s been chosen, and whether there may be better or other options for you or your parents.

Here’s the key: make sure you understand it, and don’t hang up the phone until you do. If your broker is using words you don’t understand, keep asking questions until you do understand. If you need a referral to an advisor give us a call.

With everything that is happening in the world—and with the volatility of the stock market and our current reality —knowing your options is vital to preserving the full legacy you and your parents have worked hard to build.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

With all the media about “digital wills” and “online estate planning” it could be tempting to think you can do your estate planning yourself, online. And, maybe you can. But, if you do, you need to know the potential pitfalls. Online estate planning could be a big trap for the unwary and end up leaving your family worse off than if you had done nothing at all.

First and foremost, before you do any of your own online estate planning, it’s critical to understand your family dynamics, the nature of your assets, and what the state of California would say should happen to your assets if something happens to you. You see, if you don’t do estate planning, the state does have a plan for your assets if you become incapacitated or when you die. You need to know what that plan is, so you know whether you want to change it.

But Don’t I Need a Will and Can’t I Just Do It Online?
Here’s the funny thing about estate planning: the one legal document that everyone thinks they need most actually does the least.

Every adult does need SOME estate planning. A will is always a good idea because it says who gets, and who oversees distributing, what you have. However, if the default law would have given your assets to the same people you would choose and authority to the person you would name anyway, then an online will would probably do nothing valuable for you at all.

Even a properly drafted will does not keep your family out of court (a will must always be adjudicated by a judge). And if drafted improperly, it could require the person you’ve named to handle things for you to get a bond, which is like an insurance policy. These are expensive and can be hard to get for an executor who has less than a stellar credit score. If your named executor cannot get a bond, it would then mean the court would appoint a court ordered executor, and that can be costly for your estate. This is just one of the examples of how having a will prepared online, can create more expense for the people you love. Unfortunately, all the online will preparation solutions I’ve reviewed don’t even mention this risk.

So, yes, you can do your own will online, but at what potential cost for the people you love?

The Problem with Online Wills
DIY online estate plans (and even many estate plans created by lawyers) usually include three or four basic documents: a will, a financial power of attorney, an advance health care directive, and possibly a trust.

But, honestly, completing these documents without counsel is simply not enough to guarantee your estate will be executed as simply, affordably, and effectively as you would wish.

For instance—are you sure there isn’t some missing consideration that could lead to turmoil as your family tries to figure it out? Did you know that most family fights don’t even happen over money, but over lack of clarity? Have you considered all your extended family, including stepchildren and ex-spouses? What will be done with all the personal, sentimental items you want to pass on to your children?

And there have been far too many scenarios where seniors, even those who had some estate planning done, get caught in the court system or even declared incompetent, and then have court-appointed guardians named, who then drain their accounts. In many cases, their assets are gutted before they can go to their kids. You don’t want that to happen to you or your family and a do-it-yourself will makes that outcome more likely, not less.

What about making sure your family knows what you have and where it is? An online will won’t tell them that. There’s nearly $10 billion being held in the California department of unclaimed property; much of it because someone died and their family lost track of their assets.

So how can you be sure you’ve got everything covered, legally?

With online wills and DIY estate planning docs, you wouldn’t even know what questions to ask to uncover the potential risks to the people you love, who deserve to receive what you’ve created in your life, without a big mess.

Think about this: do you know anyone who has lost family relationships because, after a loved one died, the family ended up in an irrevocable fight? Maybe this has even happened in your own family. I see it all the time and the consequences—both, financial and emotional—can be devastating.

And, it’s all unnecessary.

Yes, even if there are attorneys on staff at these online companies, they don’t get to know you and your family dynamics enough to spot the real issues that could arise. They are, instead, focused on a one-size-fits-all solution and easy answers to complex issues.

The Kind of Help Your Family Deserves
Many lawyers who specialize in estate planning often base their work on template documents. Even if they are well-intentioned, they’re working with an old, traditional system that places the focus solely on providing documents. But the documents are only as good as the understanding a lawyer has about your family dynamics, the nature of your assets, how the law will apply to your situation, and how the documents can be written as simply as possible to achieve your wishes. You need much more than just a set of four or five filled-out template documents to address all those complexities.

Your plan should include an inventory of your assets and guarantee they are all owned in a way that will keep your family out of court and conflict while ensuring everyone named in your plan has what they need and understands your choices. Most importantly, you should understand your plan and ensure that it passes along more than just your money.

Do it yourself estate planning is risky. While it may be better than nothing, it may also be worse. And it won’t be until after you are gone that your loved ones find out that answer.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

In many families, money matters are not typical dinner table discussion, but I think it should be. This is especially true when it comes to affluent parents. And, I hope this changes because one of the most important things you can do is talk to your kids (and your parents) about money.

According to the Spectrem Millionaire Corner, a market research group, only 17% of affluent parents said they would disclose their income or net worth to their kids by the time they turned 18. A nearly equal amount, 18% said they would never disclose these numbers to their kids. 32% of the parents surveyed by Spectrem said “it’s none of their business” when asked why they would not talk to their kids about money.

But, that’s faulty thinking. The amount of money generated by your family, and what will happen to it when you or your parents become incapacitated or die is definitely “family” business. In fact, whether your parents talk with you about it now, or you figure it all out after they die, your parent’s money has a huge impact on you.

If your parents are not talking to you about money, it could be because they are afraid that if you know how much money there is, it will make you lazy, unmotivated, or change the course of your life decisions in a negative manner. And, maybe you have the same fears of talking about money with your own kids.

But the truth is that whether you know exactly what’s there or not, you have a general sense of your family’s financial situation and it’s already impacted your decisions in a myriad of ways. And the best way for your family’s money to impact your decisions in a positive manner is to have open conversation about it.

If you are a child of well-off parents who are not talking to you about money, consider that your job is to learn to communicate with your parents in a way that will have them trust you, and the decisions you will make if you know just how much there is.

When money has come up in the past, have you behaved immaturely? Have your actions or words caused your parents not to trust you? If so, you can change that now. And consider the possibility that your parents would love to see evidence of your maturity in this arena.

If you are a parent yourself, one of the most important wishes you have for your children is probably that they learn to handle money well. And as a parent myself, I know you want to influence them in the most positive way possible when it comes to money (and everything else, for that matter).

Consider how you would want your children to approach you to have the money conversation, and how you can do exactly that with your parents?

We all must learn about our family’s money eventually. And if that doesn’t happen until after our parents die, it can be a much bigger burden to deal with, and we can lose tremendous opportunities for passing on more than just money.

As an prosperous parent, or the child of prosperous parents, getting into conversations about money now is a huge opportunity to pass on values, insights, stories and experiences that will be lost if you wait until incapacity or death to start facing that topic.

I believe it’s one of the most valuable, ongoing conversations I’m having with my children – and parents. And it’s one of my favorite things to help my clients get going in their own families.

Don’t underestimate the power of these conversations. Talking to your kids (or your parents) about money is one of life’s real opportunities for your family to come together and use your whole family wealth to create more connection from one generation to the next.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Both wills and trusts are estate planning documents that can be used to pass your wealth and property to your loved ones upon your death. However, trusts come with some distinct advantages over wills that you should consider when creating your plan.

That said, when comparing the two planning tools, you won’t necessarily be choosing between one or the other—most plans include both. Indeed, a will is a foundational part of every person’s estate plan, but you may want to combine your will with a living trust to avoid the blind spots inherent in plans that rely solely on a will.

Here are four reasons you might want to consider adding a trust to your estate plan:

1. Avoidance of probate

One of the primary advantages a living trust has over a will is that a living trust does not have to go through probate. Probate is the court process through which assets left in your will are distributed to your heirs upon your death.

During probate, the court oversees your will’s administration, ensuring your property is distributed according to your wishes, with automatic supervision to handle any disputes. Probate proceedings can drag out for months or even years, and your family will likely have to hire an attorney to represent them, which can result in costly legal fees that can drain your estate.

Bottom line: If your estate plan consists of a will alone, you are guaranteeing your family will have to go to court if you become incapacitated or when you die.

However, if your assets are titled properly in the name of your living trust, your family could avoid court altogether. In fact, assets held in a trust pass directly to your loved ones upon your death, without the need for any court intervention whatsoever. This can save your loved ones major time, money, and stress while dealing with the aftermath of your death.

2. Privacy
Probate is not only costly and time consuming, it’s also public. Once in probate, your will becomes part of the public record. This means anyone who’s interested can see the contents of your estate, who your beneficiaries are, as well as what and how much your loved ones inherit, making them tempting targets for frauds and scammers.

Using a living trust, the distribution of your assets can happen in the privacy of our office, so the contents and terms of your trust will remain completely private. The only instance in which your trust would become open to the public is if someone challenges the document in court.

3. A plan for incapacity
A will only governs the distribution of your assets upon your death. It offers zero protection if you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions about your own medical, financial, and legal needs. If you become incapacitated with only a will in place, your family will have to petition the court to appoint a guardian to handle your affairs.

Like probate, guardianship proceedings can be extremely costly, time consuming, and emotional for your loved ones. And there’s always the possibility that the court could appoint a family member you’d never want making such critical decisions on your behalf. Or the court might even select a professional guardian, putting a total stranger in control of just about every aspect of your life.

With a living trust, however, you can include provisions that appoint someone of your choosing—not the court’s—to handle your assets if you’re unable to do so. Combined with a well-drafted medical power of attorney and living will, a trust can keep your family out of court and conflict in the event of your incapacity.

4. Enhanced control over asset distribution
Another advantage a trust has over just having a will is the level of control they offer you when it comes to distributing assets to your heirs. By using a trust, you can specify when and how your heirs will receive your assets after your death.

For example, you could stipulate in the trust’s terms that the assets can only be distributed upon certain life events, such as the completion of college or purchase of a home. Or you might spread out distribution of assets over your beneficiary’s lifetime, releasing a percentage of the assets at different ages or life stages.

In this way, you can help prevent your beneficiaries from blowing through their inheritance all at once and offer incentives for them to demonstrate responsible behavior. Plus, if the assets are held in trust, they’re protected from the beneficiaries’ creditors, lawsuits, and divorce, which is something else wills don’t provide.

If, for some reason, you do not want a living trust, you can use a testamentary trust to establish trusts in your will. A testamentary trust will not keep your family out of court, but it can allow you to control how and when your heirs receive your assets after your death.

An informed decision
The best way for you to determine whether your estate plan should include a living trust, a testamentary trust, or no trust at all is to meet with a trusted estate planning attorney. Sitting down with your Personal Family Attorney to discuss your family’s planning needs will empower you to feel 100% confident that you have the right combination of planning solutions in place for your family’s unique circumstances.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

On January 1, 2020, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act) went into effect, and it could have big implications for both your retirement and estate planning strategies—and not all of them are positive.

Last week, I gave you a general overview of the SECURE Act’s most impactful provisions. Under the new law, your heirs could end up paying far more in income taxes than necessary when they inherit the assets in your retirement account. Moreover, the assets your heirs inherit could also end up at risk from creditors, lawsuits, or divorce. And this is true even for retirement assets held in certain protective trusts designed to shield those assets from such threats and maximize tax savings.

Here, we’ll cover the SECURE Act’s impact on your financial planning for retirement, offering strategies for maximizing your retirement account’s potential for growth, while minimizing tax liabilities and other risks that could arise in light of the legislation’s legal changes.

Tax-advantaged retirement planning

If your retirement account assets are held in a traditional IRA, you received a tax deduction when you put funds into that account, and now the investments in that account grow tax free as long as they remain in the account. When you eventually withdraw funds from the account, you’ll pay income taxes on that money based on your tax rate at the time.

If you withdraw those funds during retirement, your tax rate will likely (but not always) be lower than it is now. The combination of the upfront tax deduction on your initial investment with the likely lower tax rate on your withdrawal is what makes traditional IRAs such an attractive option for retirement planning.

Thanks to the SECURE Act, these retirement vehicles now come with even more benefits. Previously, you were required to start taking distributions from retirement accounts at age 70 ½. But under the SECURE Act, you are not required to start taking distributions until you reach 72, giving you an additional year-and-a-half to grow your retirement savings tax free.

The SECURE Act also eliminated the age restriction on contributions to traditional IRAs. Under prior law, those who continued working could not contribute to a traditional IRA once they reached 70 ½. Now you can continue making contributions to your IRA for as long as you and/or your spouse are still working.

From a financial-planning perspective, you’ll want to consider the effect these new rules could have on the goal for your retirement account assets. For example, will you need the assets you’ve been accumulating in your retirement account for your own use during retirement, or do you plan to pass those assets to your heirs? From there, you’ll want to consider the potential income-tax consequences of each scenario.

Your retirement account assets are extremely valuable, and you’ll want to ensure those assets are well managed both for yourself and future generations, so you should discuss these issues with your financial advisor as soon as possible. If you don’t already have a financial advisor, we’ll be happy to recommend a few we trust most.

And if you meet with us for a Family Estate Planning Session (or for a review of your existing plan) to discuss your options from a legal perspective, we can integrate your financial advisor into our meeting. Together, we can look at the specific goals you’re trying to achieve and determine the best ways to use your retirement-account assets to benefit yourself and your heirs.

Here are some things we would consider with you and your financial advisor:

Converting to a ROTH IRA
In light of the SECURE Act’s changes, you may want to consider converting your traditional IRA to a ROTH IRA. ROTH IRAs come with a potentially large tax bill up front, when you initially transition the account, but all earnings and future distributions from the account are tax free.

Life insurance trust options
Given the new distribution requirements for inherited IRAs, we can also look at whether it makes sense to withdraw the funds from your retirement account now, pay the resulting tax, and invest the remainder in life insurance. From there, you can set up a life insurance trust to hold the policy’s balance for your heirs.

By directing the death benefits of that insurance into a trust, you can avoid burdening your beneficiaries with the SECURE Act’s new tax requirements for withdrawals of inherited retirement assets as well as provide extended asset protection for the funds held in trust.

Charitable trust options
If you have charitable inclinations, we can consider using a charitable remainder trust (CRT). By naming the CRT as the beneficiary of your retirement account, when you pass away, the CRT would make monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, or annual distributions to your beneficiaries over their lifetime. Then, when the beneficiaries pass away, the remaining assets would be distributed to a charity of your choice.

The decision of whether to transition your traditional IRA into a ROTH IRA now, or cash out and buy insurance, or use a CRT to provide for your beneficiaries is a solvable “math problem.” Using the specific facts of your life goals as the elements that go into solving the problem, we can team up with your financial advisor to help you do the math and solve the equation.

Adjusting your plan
While the SECURE Act has significantly altered the tax implications for retirement planning and estate planning, as you can see, there are still plenty of tax-saving options available for managing your retirement account assets. But these options are only available if you plan for them.

If you don’t revise your plan to accommodate the SECURE Act’s new requirements, your family will pay the maximum amount of income taxes and lose valuable opportunities for asset-protection and wealth-creation as well. You’ve worked too hard for these assets to see them lost, squandered, or not pass to your heirs in the way you choose, so put this planning at the top of your new year’s resolution list.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act). The SECURE Act, is effective as of January 1, 2020. The Act is the most impactful legislation affecting retirement accounts in decades. The SECURE Act has several positive changes: It increases the required beginning date (RBD) for required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your individual retirement accounts from 70 ½ to 72 years of age, and it eliminates the age restriction for contributions to qualified retirement accounts. However, perhaps the most significant change will affect the beneficiaries of your retirement accounts: The SECURE Act requires most designated beneficiaries to withdraw the entire balance of an inherited retirement account within ten years of the account owner’s death.

The SECURE Act does provide a few exceptions to this new mandatory ten-year withdrawal rule: spouses, beneficiaries who are not more than ten years younger than the account owner, the account owner’s children who have not reached the “age of majority,” disabled individuals, and chronically ill individuals. However, proper analysis of your estate planning goals and planning for your intended beneficiaries’ circumstances are imperative to ensure your goals are accomplished and your beneficiaries are properly planned for.

Under the old law, beneficiaries of inherited retirement accounts could take distributions over their individual life expectancy. Under the SECURE Act, the shorter ten-year time frame for taking distributions will result in the acceleration of income tax due, possibly causing your beneficiaries to be bumped into a higher income tax bracket, thus receiving less of the funds contained in the retirement account than you may have originally anticipated.

Your estate planning goals likely include more than just tax considerations. You might be concerned with protecting a beneficiary’s inheritance from their creditors, future lawsuits, or a divorcing spouse. In order to protect your hard-earned retirement account and the ones you love, it is critical to act now.

Review/Amend Your Revocable Living Trust (RLT) or Standalone Retirement Trust (SRT)

Depending on the value of your retirement account, you may have addressed the distribution of your accounts in your RLT, or you may have created an SRT that would handle your retirement accounts at your death. Your trust may have included a “conduit” provision, and, under the old law, the trustee would only distribute required minimum distributions (RMDs) to the trust beneficiaries, allowing the continued “stretch” based upon their age and life expectancy.  A conduit trust protected the account balance, and only RMDs–much smaller amounts–were vulnerable to creditors and divorcing spouses. With the SECURE Act’s passage, a conduit trust structure will no longer work because the trustee will be required to distribute the entire account balance to a beneficiary within ten years of your death. You many now need to consider the benefits of an “accumulation trust,” an alternative trust structure through which the trustee can take any required distributions and continue to hold them in a protected trust for your beneficiaries.

Consider Additional Trusts

For most Americans, a retirement account is the largest asset they will own when they pass away. If you have not done so already, it may be beneficial to create a trust to handle your retirement accounts. While many accounts offer simple beneficiary designation forms that allow you to name an individual or charity to receive funds when you pass away, this form alone does not take into consideration your estate planning goals and the unique circumstances of your beneficiary. A trust is a great tool to address the mandatory ten-year withdrawal rule under the new Act, providing continued protection of a beneficiary’s inheritance.

Review Intended Beneficiaries

With the changes to the laws surrounding retirement accounts, now is a great time to review and confirm your retirement account information. Whichever estate planning strategy is appropriate for you, it is important that your beneficiary designation is filled out correctly. If your intention is for the retirement account to go into a trust for a beneficiary, the trust must be properly named as the primary beneficiary. If you want the primary beneficiary to be an individual, he or she must be named. Ensure you have listed contingent beneficiaries as well.

If you have recently divorced or married, you will need to ensure the appropriate changes are made because at your death, in many cases, the plan administrator will distribute the account funds to the beneficiary listed, regardless of your relationship with the beneficiary or what your ultimate wishes might have been.

What Happens Next

If you are a client, we’ll be reaching out to you over the coming weeks if your plan is affected by the SECURE Act. If you are not a client, and don’t have an ongoing relationship with a trusted advisor, we’d be happy to review your plan to determine if it is affected by the SECURE Act. And if you have yet to get an estate plan in place, there’s no better time to get that process started. Let us know if we can help and happy new year!

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

In the first part of this series, we discussed a unique planning tool known as a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust. Here we explain the benefits of these trusts in further detail. 

If you’re planning to leave your children an inheritance of any amount, you likely want to do everything you can to protect what you leave behind from being lost or squandered.

While most lawyers will advise you to distribute the assets you’re leaving to your kids outright at specific ages and stages, based on when you think they will be mature enough to handle an inheritance, there is a much better choice for safeguarding your family wealth.

A Lifetime Asset Protection Trust is a unique estate planning vehicle that’s specifically designed to protect your children’s inheritance from unfortunate life events such as divorce, debt, illness, and accidents. At the same time, you can give your children the ability to access and invest their inheritance, while retaining airtight asset protection for their entire lives.

Today, we’ll look at the Trustee’s role in the process and how these unique trusts can teach your kids to manage and grow their inheritance, so it can support your children to become wealth creators and enrich future generations.

Total discretion for the Trustee offers airtight asset protection
Most trusts require the Trustee to distribute assets to beneficiaries in a structured way, such as at certain ages or stages. Other times, a Trustee is required to distribute assets only for specific purposes, such as for the beneficiary’s “health, education, maintenance, and support,” also known as the “HEMS” standard.

In contrast, a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust gives the Trustee full discretion on whether to make distributions or not. The Trust leaves the decision of whether to release trust assets totally up to the Trustee. The Trustee has full authority to determine how and when the assets should be released based on the beneficiary’s needs and the circumstances going on in his or her life at the time.

For example, if your child was in the process of getting divorced or in the middle of a lawsuit, the Trustee would refuse to distribute any funds. Therefore, the Trust assets remain shielded from a future ex-spouse or a potential judgment creditor, should your child be ordered to pay damages resulting from a lawsuit.

What’s more, because the Trustee controls access to the inheritance, those assets are not only protected from outside threats like ex-spouses and creditors, but from your child’s own poor judgment, as well. For example, if your child develops a substance abuse or gambling problem, the Trustee could withhold distributions until he or she receives the appropriate treatment.

A lifetime of guidance and support
Given that distributions from a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust are 100% up to the Trustee, you may be concerned about the Trustee’s ability to know when to make distributions to your child and when to withhold them. Granting such power is vital for asset protection, but it also puts a lot of pressure on the Trustee, and you probably don’t want your named Trustee making these decisions in a vacuum.

To address this issue, you can write up guidelines to the Trustee, providing the Trustee with direction about how you’d like the trust assets to be used for your beneficiaries. This ensures the Trustee is aware of your values and wishes when making distributions, rather than simply guessing what you would’ve wanted, which often leads to problems down the road. 

In fact, many of our clients add guidelines describing how they’d choose to make distributions in up to 10 different scenarios. These scenarios might involve the purchase of a home, a wedding, the start of a business, and/or travel.

An educational opportunity
Beyond these benefits, a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust can also be set up to give your child hands-on experience managing financial matters, like investing, running a business, and charitable giving. And he or she will learn how to do these things with support from the Trustee you’ve chosen to guide them.

This is accomplished by adding provisions to the trust that allow your child to become a Co-Trustee at a predetermined age. Serving alongside the original Trustee, your child will have the opportunity to invest and manage the trust assets under the supervision and tutelage of a trusted mentor.

You can even allow your child to become Sole Trustee later in life, once he or she has gained enough experience and is ready to take full control. As Sole Trustee, your child would be able to resign and replace themselves with an independent trustee, if necessary, for continued asset protection.

Future generations
Regardless of whether or not your child becomes Co-Trustee or Sole Trustee, a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust gives you the opportunity to turn your child’s inheritance into a teaching tool.

Do you want to give your child the ability to leave trust assets to a surviving spouse or a charity upon their death? Or would you prefer that the assets are only distributed to his or her biological or adopted children? You might even want your child to create their own Lifetime Asset Protection Trust for their heirs.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

As a parent, you’re likely hoping to leave your children an inheritance. But without taking the proper precautions, the wealth you pass on is at serious risk of being accidentally lost or squandered. In some instances, an inheritance can even wind up doing your kids more harm than good.

Creating a will or a revocable living trust offers some protection, but in most cases, you’ll be guided to distribute assets through your will or trust to your children at specific ages and stages, such as one-third at age 25, half the balance at 30, and the rest at 35.

If you’ve created estate planning documents, check to see if this is how your will or trust leaves assets to your children. If so, you may not have been told about another option that can give your children access, control, and airtight asset protection for whatever assets they inherit from you.

A Lifetime Asset Protection Trust safeguards the inheritance from being lost to common life events, such as divorce, serious illness, lawsuits, or even bankruptcy.

But that’s not all they do.

Indeed, the best part of these trusts is that they offer you—and your kids—the best of both worlds: airtight asset protection AND use and control of the inheritance. What’s more, you can even use the trust to incentivize your children to invest and grow their inheritance.

Not all trusts are created equal
Most lawyers will advise you to put the assets you’re leaving your kids in a revocable living trust—and this is the right move. But most lawyers would structure the trust to distribute those assets outright to your children at certain ages or stages.

And if you’ve used an online do-it-yourself will or trust-preparation service like LegalZoom®, Rocket Lawyer,® or any of the newer options frequently coming online now, you will most likely be offered only two options: outright distribution of the entire inheritance to your kids when you die, or partial distributions when they reach specific ages and stages as described above.

Either of those options leaves their inheritance—and your hard-earned and well-saved money—at risk. Indeed, once assets pass into your child’s name, all the protection previously offered by your trust disappears.

For example, say your son racked up debt while in college, which can sometimes happen. If he were to receive one-third of his inheritance at age 25, creditors could take his inheritance if it’s paid to him in an outright distribution.

The same thing would be true if your daughter gets a divorce after receiving her inheritance, only it would be her soon-to-be ex-spouse who would claim a right to the funds in a divorce settlement. And despite what you may have heard about an inheritance remaining separate property, once it’s in your child’s hands, outright and unprotected, those assets are at risk.

There’s just no way to foresee what the future has in store for your kids—these kind of events happen to families every day. And that’s not even taking into consideration that your kids might simply blow through the money and spend it all on unnecessary luxuries.

Airtight asset protection—and easy access
Lifetime Asset Protection Trusts are specifically designed to prevent your hard-earned assets from being wiped out by such risks. And at the same time, your children will still be able to use and invest the funds held in trust as needed.  

For example, even though the assets are held in trust, your kids would be able to invest those funds in things like stocks, a business, or real estate, provided they do so in the name of the trust. Plus, if your child needs to pull money out to pay for college, a new home, or medical bills, they can do that by asking a Trustee—who’s chosen by you to oversee the money—for a distribution.

Or, as will cover next week, you may even allow your child to become Sole Trustee at some point in the future, allowing him or her to make decisions about the trust’s management.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Whether it’s called “The Great Wealth Transfer,” “The Silver Tsunami,” or some other catchy-sounding name, it’s a fact that a tremendous amount of wealth will pass from aging Baby Boomers to younger generations in the next few decades. In fact, it’s said to be the largest transfer of intergenerational wealth in history.

Because no one knows exactly how long Boomers will live or how much money they’ll spend before they pass on, it’s impossible to accurately predict just how much wealth will be transferred. But studies suggest it’s somewhere between $30 and $50 trillion. Yes, that’s “trillion” with a “T.”

A blessing or a curse?
And while most are talking about the benefits this asset transfer might have for younger generations and the economy, few are talking about its potential negative ramifications. Yet there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that many people, especially younger generations, are woefully unprepared to handle such an inheritance. 

Indeed, an Ohio State University study found that one third of people who received an inheritance had a negative savings within two years of getting the money. Another study by The Williams Group found that intergenerational wealth transfers often become a source of tension and dispute among family members, and 70% of such transfers fail by the time they reach the second generation.

Whether you will be inheriting or passing on this wealth, it’s crucial to have a plan in place to reduce the potentially calamitous effects such transfers can lead to. Without proper estate planning, the money and other assets that get passed on can easily become more of a curse than a blessing.

Get proactive
There are several proactive measures you can take to help stave off the risks posed by the big wealth transfer. Beyond having a comprehensive estate plan, openly discussing your values and legacy with your loved ones can be key to ensuring your planning strategies work exactly as you intended. Here’s what we suggest:

Create a plan: If you haven’t created your estate plan yet—and far too many folks haven’t—it’s essential that you put a plan in place as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter how young you are or if you have a family yet, all adults over 18 should have some basic planning vehicles in place.

From there, be sure to regularly review your plan (and update it immediately after major life events like marriage, births, deaths, inheritances, and divorce) throughout your lifetime.

Discuss wealth with your family early and often: Don’t put off talking about wealth with your family until you’re in retirement or nearing death. Clearly communicate with your children and grandchildren what wealth means to you and how you’d like them to use the assets they inherit when you pass away. Make such discussions a regular event, so you can address different aspects of wealth and your family legacy as they grow and mature.

When discussing wealth with your family members, focus on the values you want to instill, rather than what and how much they can expect to inherit. Let them know what values are most important to you and try to mirror those values in your family life as much as possible. Whether it’s saving and investing, charitable giving, or community service, having your kids live your values while growing up is often the best way to ensure they carry them on once you’re gone.

Communicate your wealth’s purpose: Outside of clearly communicating your values, you should also discuss the specific purpose(s) you want your wealth to serve in your loved ones’ lives. You worked hard to build your family wealth, so you’ve more than earned the right to stipulate how it gets used and managed when you’re gone. Though you can create specific terms and conditions for your wealth’s future use in planning vehicles like a living trust, don’t make your loved ones wait until you’re dead to learn exactly how you want their inheritance used.

If you want your wealth to be used to fund your children’s college education, provide the down payment on their first home, or invested for their retirement, tell them so. By discussing such things while you’re still around, you can ensure your loved ones know exactly why you made the planning decisions you did. And doing so can greatly reduce future conflict and confusion about what your true wishes really are.

Secure your wealth, your legacy, and your family’s future
Regardless of how much or how little wealth you plan to pass on—or stand to inherit—it’s vital that you take steps to make sure that wealth is protected and put to the best use possible. A good plan should facilitate your ability to communicate your most treasured values, experiences, and stories with the ones you’re leaving behind so you can rest assured that the coming wealth transfer offers the maximum benefit for those you love most.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Divorce can be traumatic for the whole family. Even if the process is amicable, it involves many tough decisions, legal hassles, and painful emotions that can drag out over several months, or even years.

That said, while you probably don’t want to add any more items to your to-do list during this trying time, it’s absolutely critical that you review and update your estate plan—not only after the divorce is final, but as soon as possible once you know the split is inevitable.

Even after you file for divorce, your marriage is legally in full effect until your divorce is finalized. That means if you die while the divorce is still ongoing and you haven’t updated your estate plan, your soon-to-be-ex spouse could end up inheriting everything. Maybe even worse, in the event you’re incapacitated before the divorce is final, your ex would be in complete control of your legal, financial, and healthcare decisions.

Given the fact you’re ending the relationship, you probably wouldn’t want him or her having that much control over your life and assets. If that’s the case, you must act, and chances are, your divorce attorney is not thinking about these matters.

While California law limits your ability to completely change your estate plan once your divorce has been filed, the following are a few of the most important updates you should consider making as soon as possible when divorce is on the horizon.

1. Update your power of attorney documents for healthcare, financial, and legal decisions
If you are incapacitated by illness or injury during the divorce, who would you want making life-and-death healthcare decisions on your behalf? In the midst of divorce, chances are you’ll want someone other than your soon-to-be ex making these important decisions for you. If that’s the case, you must act immediately; don’t wait.

Similarly, who would you want managing your finances and making legal decisions for you? Considering the impending split, you’ll most likely want to select another individual, particularly if things are anything less than friendly between the two of you. Again, you must take action if you do not want your spouse making these decisions for you. Don’t wait.

2. Update your beneficiary designations
Failing to update beneficiary designations for assets that do not pass through a will or trust, such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts, is one of the most frequent—and tragic—planning mistakes made by those who get divorced. If you get remarried following your divorce, for example, but haven’t changed your IRA beneficiary designation to name your new spouse, the ex you divorced 10 years ago could end up with your retirement savings upon your death.

That said, once either spouse files divorce papers with the court, neither party can legally amend their beneficiaries without the other’s permission until the divorce is final. Given this, if you’re anticipating a divorce, you may want to consider changing your beneficiaries prior to filing divorce papers. If your divorce is already filed, once the divorce is finalized making these changes should be your number-one planning priority. In fact, put it on your to-do list right now!

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the critical estate-planning updates you should make when divorce is inevitable.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,