Recently I met with a life insurance agent to talk about planning. He told me the new term for what most attorneys know as estate planning is advance planning. “Advance” as in planning prior to death, disability, accident, divorce — whatever those bumps in life’s road might be.
While I’m not generally a fan of new words to describe something familiar, in this case I tend to agree that a better term for what we do and have called “estate planning” for years is advance planning. There are several reasons for this.
First, the very word “estate” tends to conjure up visions of a vast estate, complete with a mansion, detached multiple-car garage, horse barn and servants’ quarters. The result is, most people hear “estate planning” and think they don’t need it.
Secondly, people often insert the word “tax” between “estate” and “planning” and subconsciously think estate tax planning. Once again, especially since the estate tax limits are so high that 99.9% of people in the United State aren’t affected by estate taxes, people think they don’t estate planning.
Thirdly, advance planning encompasses more than planning for one’s estate, even if the concept of an estate is correctly understood as encompassing everything that you own, land, stocks, vehicles, paintings, etc. Advance planning includes living wills and Advance Medical Directives, matters not typically included in a traditional estate plan. Advance planning also includes making provisions for loved ones during life, not just at death, the way traditional estate plans are viewed.
So what is included in advance planning?
There are four broad parts to advance planning and each requires a specialist. The first is the financial part. This is how wealth is accumulated through investments, retirement plans, and savings. This part requires a financial planner.
The second part is protection for what you’re accumulating as well as protection against not being able to complete the accumulation process because of death or disability. This is where the insurance agent comes in.
The third part is tracking the investments, especially with respect to income taxes that might diminish what is being accumulated. The professional for this part is an accountant.
The final part is the creation of the vehicle to hold, carry and distribute the accumulated wealth at the proper time, usually upon the death or disability of the client, though it might come sooner. This is the function of the attorney. The attorney can also help with living wills, which give direction to medical professionals about your wishes as to how long and under what conditions life-prolonging methods should be employed.
All advance planning professionals, of whatever specialty, deal with one big obstacle to doing their jobs: the reluctance of clients to address issues that they hope are decades into the future. If you don’t have an advance plan and don’t because you think you can deal with it next year or in five years or 10 years, ask yourself: what would happen if I don’t wake up tomorrow morning?
If we can help explain some of the ins and outs of advance planning, please contact us.