People frequently ask me why they need their estate plan reviewed every year. The answer is simple. Things change on a daily basis sometimes, and certainly every year. New children or grandchildren are born. Assets increase or decrease. Different types of assets come into the picture. Goals and desires change. Laws change. As such, touching base with your estate planning and elder law attorney on an annual basis is just a good idea to make sure your plan and documents align with your goals. But more importantly, every life stage has a different strategy in estate planning and asset preservation. As such, every year you need to visit with your estate planner to discuss what life stage of the plan you are in, what needs to happen next, and how best to preserve the assets you've worked so hard for. That's what this blog post is about.
Young Single Adults (18-30)
In this life stage, you will have no children (although you may be married). The goal of an estate plan in this phase is simple: control where the assets go in the unlikely event of your death without probate. You'll want something set up to ensure your spouse, family, or others get assets without having to go through an "intestate" probate proceeding. A simple will with well established beneficiary designations can usually take care of this. However, you may also need a trust in place if you have assets over $100,000 or assets spread across multiple states. In this phase, we'll also discuss other end of life decisions and draft documents such as powers of attorney and living wills. We'll also make sure that your investment time goals align with your estate plan.
Young Parents (25-40)
In this life stage, you will have children that you want to provide for in the event of your death. Parents must have a trust. It can be a testamentary trust that is set up in your will, but most of the time I encourage a living trust (also known as a revocable trust) so that as your assets increase over time you have a pre-established means of avoiding probate. In a trust, you can control how the assets are spent on your children's behalf while they are still young. You can provide for their education, health, maintenance, and welfare. You can control how quickly they have discretionary access to the assets so that they don't inherit a decent amount of money as an 18 year old and blow it in a few weeks or months. If you start estate planning in this stage, we'll take care of your powers of attorney and living wills, and we'll still be making sure that your investment goals align with your estate plan and vice versa.
Middle Ages (Age 40-55)
In this life stage, we start paying very close attention to the potential for estate tax liability. The first reason we do this is because by this point in life many people have begun accumulating substantial assets. Secondly, even if you are no where near the estate tax exclusion limits right now, the law changes every time there is a shift of power in Washington (yet another good reason to have an annual touch base with your estate planner). Ultimately, the goal here is to structure assets between several types of trusts, establish charitable giving and other gifting strategies, and take other steps to minimize your federal estate and gift tax liability by maximizing deductions, exclusions, and credits in estate and gift tax law. This is a complicated and ever-changing area of law that requires routine visits and updates with your estate planner. Of course, if this is where you start estate planning we'll most definitely take care of powers of attorney and living wills. At this point, we'll work with your financial advisor to make sure that you have enough income in retirement, and probably get a head start on the next phase of estate planning: asset preservation.
Young Seniors and Beyond (Age 55+)
As you get nearer to the end of life, detailed planning becomes even more important. Life spans are getting increasingly longer, and as such the need for skilled nursing care later in life is becoming more and more necessary. However, skilled nursing care is extraordinarily expensive. One way to pay for it is Long Term Care Insurance. However, many will need to engage in certain asset protection strategies to prevent Medicaid from requiring you to exhaust almost your entire estate before paying for long term skilled nursing care. You've spent a lifetime paying Medicaid taxes; why spend your entire estate just so Medicaid will kick in? This planning phase should start before retirement so that your retirement income can be taken into account first. We'll continue working with investment advisors to that end. Through retirement, a very close eye must be kept on estate size (have I mentioned the need to have routine checkins with your estate planner?). Once we know you'll have the income you need for retirement, we'll start putting assets in specialized irrevocable trusts through which you can still take some income if needed. We'll start establishing giving patterns and routines to further clear your estate. Keep in mind that Medicaid will look back five years to determine what gifts must be recovered before it will pay for your care. In short, you must be well ahead of the game here. Of course, we'll stay on top of any powers of attorney, living wills, and other documents you need as well.
For me, it's all about relationship. I don't want to charge clients thousands upon thousands of dollars and then send them on their way. That's why it's just $1,000 per year to get all of this and more. If I can be of any assistance, please reach out.
Aren't we all?
I've heard this several times as I tried to describe what I'm doing to help individuals and families build lives that reflect their values, manage risk, and defensively steward what God has given them. But is it really so crazy? Here are three reason why concierge law is a good thing for me and a good thing for you.
Concierge law is a specialized law practice in which the attorney gives up larger sums of money up front to develop a long term relationship with a client to meet the vast majority of that client's lifetime legal needs.
1. Limited Client Base
To do this right, the concierge lawyer must limit the number of clients he or she keeps. Sure, an attorney could take 200 clients per year at $1,000 per year, but then each client gets less than an hour each month. To provide good service, the concierge lawyer limits the number of clients he or she takes so that the lawyer can apply focus to each client's unique needs. The attorney can do this because there is a steady stream of income, whereas the traditional lawyer must plan for those months of famine where there is no legal work to do.
2. Big Picture Focus
The concierge lawyer has the benefit of looking at the big picture. Specialists are usually only concerned about the case right in front of them. Let's say you get to a point where you need a specialized attorney rather than the generalist that a concierge lawyer must be. Without a concierge lawyer, maybe you answer the letters you get in the mail after a car accident. Maybe you go to Facebook and look for recommendations for that intellectual property lawyer. But do you really know what you're going to get? Your concierge lawyer would assist you in picking a specialist, and then help you manage the relationship with that specialist in a manner that meets your long term, big picture objectives rather than just the here and now.
3. Predictable Cost
"That will be $200 per hour," is a common phrase heard in law offices across the country. "How many hours do you expect?" is a common question asked in response. "I'm a lawyer not a fortune teller," is a good summation of most answers to that question. Clients leave with a lawyer, but no idea how much money they are going to spend to get whatever they needed done. With a concierge lawyer, you know exactly how much you are going to spend. With me, you're only going to spend $1,000 per year as long as you remain my client.
There are a lot of other reasons why concierge law makes sense. Everyone will have a different reason why its a good idea for them. You may have an accountant, doctor, nanny, baby sitter, lawn guy, massage therapist, pastor, stylist, pet groomer, and other professionals. Add attorney to the mix by hiring your own concierge attorney. Learn more here.
On December 18, 2017 at 7:00pm, Josh Bryant will be hosting a free interactive webinar called Keeping the Family Budget. This is Part two of two in which we'll help you design and keep a budget to minimize your risk of divorce, bankruptcy, foreclosure, eviction, repossession, wage garnishments, and more.
In the interactive Keeping the Family Budget Webinar, we'll discuss:
Normally, a webinar like this would cost $10 per household unless you signed up for one of our membership plans. The Online Access plan would give you a 20% discount, so it would only cost $8 per household. I'm giving this one to everyone for free as if you were an Attorney Access member. See all the benefits of the membership plans I have available and subscribe for one here.
Sign up for this free webinar by Josh Bryant called Keeping the Family Budget by clicking here. Don't forget to use Facebook to note your attendance as well.
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I follow Christ. I have a beautiful wife Megan and three wonderful children, Harrisen, Rebekah, and Carter. I have an M.Div. from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, am licensed to practice law in several state and federal courts, and live in Rogers, Arkansas. I write a blog and produce a podcast. And I do it all that others may know Christ.