Talking about Estate Planning Sooner Rather Than Later

There are subjects in life that need to be discussed, but many of us tend to avoid them. Issues like mortality and money top the list. As parents and children grow older, a must-have conversation should be the topic of estate planning, but do we know all that we should?

According to Fidelity Investments’ “ Family & Finance Study,” the answer is a resounding — and rather scary — “no.” In fact, seven out of 10 of children underestimated their parents’ estate by an average of $278,000. That’s a big number between knowing what is going on and not understanding at all. It illustrates a breakdown in communication that Kevin Ruth, head of Fidelity’s wealth planning and personal trust, says badly needs addressing through ‘frank conversations” between parents and their adult children.

“Even in the simplest of family situations, conversations that don’t occur frequently and in detail can result in fairly substantial family disagreements and disconnects,” says Ruth. “Establishing an estate plan is your best bet to ensure your loved ones are taken care of in your absence and that your wishes are carried out the way you want.”

In fact, according to the study, the two generations apparently can’t even agree on whether they’ve already had such detailed talks. Seventy percent of parents surveyed believe they have discussed these issues; more than 50 percent of their children claim they haven’t. So what are the benefits of an estate plan?

It allows you to:

• Preserve and maintain control over the transfer of your assets.
• Protect your family’s privacy and possibly avoid probate.
• Provide immediate access to liquidity.
• Choose how your beneficiaries will receive assets.
• Designate who will execute your wishes even if you’re just incapacitated.

These are solid reasons to research estate planning today. One thing to remember, it’s not just for the very wealthy. Most people have complicated lives and issues that need exploring — with children and maybe step children’s interests to protect, or  a family businesses to pass on — most people, could do with some solid estate planning

Plus, there’s the federal government to consider. After all, no one wants the government getting any more money than is legally required. Some think they have knowledge of investments like IRAs and Roth IRAs, but even distributions from these accounts can be problematic if the aim is to “stretch” payments out to beneficiaries, tax deferred or tax free, for as long as possible.

To see what is involved, attorneys and tax advisors can help set up an estate plan. Plus, there are online resources like Fidelity’s Estate Planning Overview. Fidelity customers also have access to its new Estate Planner to more thoroughly prepare and educate themselves for a meeting, right down to details like organizing documents and choosing lawyers. While it’s scary to think about life without family members and what that life may look like, ultimately it’s better to have a conversation and get a plan in place. Like the Boy Scouts, it pays to be prepared.