A good estate plan protects your legacy, avoids common pitfalls, and eliminates stress and confusion.
What is Estate Planning?
If you have a will, you may think you’re adequately prepared for the future. But a will only guides the disbursement of your assets (essentially, who gets what).
An estate plan offers a more comprehensive view. An estate plan outlines your wishes regarding your health, finances, and businesses—even while you’re living.
A well-thought-out estate plan also employs a wide range of strategies to better preserve and protect your wealth, avoid legal pitfalls and tax burdens, and ensure your loved ones and designated charities receive the greatest benefit.
As part of the estate planning process, our experienced advisors will identify crucial actions you should take now to protect your legacy. These actions might include setting up directives and powers of attorney, adjusting your life insurance benefit, protecting business assets with legal structures, establishing trusts, and adopting a tax-sensitive approach.
Some steps will require the assistance of an estate lawyer. We provide a useful summary of your estate plan so you can streamline your attorney interactions (and reduce your legal expenses).
The Estate Planning Process
The estate planning process is multi-faceted. We can guide you through each step, ensuring that your wishes are honored and your legacy is secure.
Envision Your Legacy
At Ascent, we help you clarify your personal vision and financial goals for your present, future, and beyond. An essential part of estate planning is developing a vision for your long-term legacy. How do you wish to provide for a spouse, children, aging parents or other family members? Do you hope to leverage your wealth to lift up future generations? Are there organizations or special causes you wish to support? Are you looking to make a lasting mark on the world?
A well-thought-out estate plan will ensure that all of the needs of your dependents (be they minors, adult children, siblings, persons with special needs or aging parents) are taken care of in accordance with your desires.
Create a Will or Trust
A will or trust is the foundation of your estate plan. We can help you choose a document structure that best supports your goals for your legacy. There are key differences between a will and a trust. A will generally goes into effect after you pass, whereas a trust can take effect as soon as it’s created.
A trust can provide greater control over how and when your beneficiaries receive assets. You can also specify what assets can be used for, such as tuition or purchasing a home. This level of control can be very useful if your heirs are still young. A trust also allows you to transfer property without triggering probate—which can be both costly and time consuming.
Consider Life Insurance
If you’re providing for children or other dependents—and you worry how they’ll fare when you’re gone—your estate plan should probably include life insurance. We can point you to the right kind of insurance (term, variable, guaranteed, etc.) for your situation, so your dependents are protected for as long as they need to be. Then you can shop for coverage with confidence.
Unlike savings or investments (which help you reach your financial goals), life insurance is an expense—and its primary purpose is to replace an economic loss, such as your salary.
Set up Health Directives
Directives ensure important decisions are made by people you trust. A comprehensive estate plan includes directives to your Executors and Power of Attorney holders about what to do if your mental or physical health deteriorates. Without directives in place, people you barely know (such as medical professionals or state-appointed representatives) may be making decisions about your health and welfare.
Set up Powers of Attorney
Whether it’s to manage specific assets, like your investments, bank accounts or real estate holdings after your gone; or whether it’s meant to help others make health-care decisions in your best interest in case you are ill or incapacitated, you need to have a POA in place to ensure your wishes are followed. A well-crafted POA will also smoothen how decisions about your final arrangements, and those related to your estate, are taken care of once you pass.
Choose your Executor(s)
An executor is given broad powers to deal with your Estate upon your passing. We’ll help you understand the complex duties of an executor and offer criteria for choosing someone to fulfill this important role.
Designate your Beneficiaries
Ensure you’ve designated beneficiaries for all of your assets. We can ensure these designations align with the information in your will or trust.
Reduce Taxes and Fees
A well-crafted estate plan can help you reduce or avoid estate taxes, probate fees and other levies, which keeps more of your wealth intact for your beneficiaries.
You might be surprised to learn that a will does not shield your assets from probate. Probate can be a costly and time-consuming process. If you have a large estate, or your assets are scattered across multiple states, or your will is contested, the probate process can drag on for months or years. By adopting smart strategies now—like drafting a living trust, establishing joint ownership for property, and designating beneficiaries for IRAs and other accounts, you can avoid probate and spare the headaches.
Estate taxes are another consideration. If the value of your estate exceeds the IRS estate tax exemption (in 2020, $11.58 million for individuals, $23.16 for married couples), you can reduce your future tax obligation by adopting a tax-sensitive strategy now. For example, you can utilize the IRS’ annual gift exemption to significantly reduce the taxable value of your estate over time. (In 2020, the annual gift exemption is $15,000 for individuals and $30,000 for married couples). Another tax-smart strategy involves gifting appreciated assets; by gifting investments instead of selling them later, you can minimize or avoid capital gains tax.
In addition to the Federal Estate Tax, each State has its own Estate Tax structure, which may or may not follow the Federal Limits. For example, Oregon’s State Estate Tax exemption is significantly lower than the Federal exemption.
Provide for your estate
Some elements of your estate–such as investments, property and other tangible assets–may require special attention, protection and management while they await to be distributed or sold. A comprehensive estate plan anticipates those needs and ensures that your assets are not neglected or jeopardized.
Protect your business
If you’re a business owner, your estate plan can help you preserve the legacy you worked so hard to create. A savvy estate plan can help prevent litigation, preserve business value, and achieve tax-efficiency. Our advisors can guide you on the steps you should take to protect your business, and facilitate those steps with your attorney. We may recommend drafting buy/sell agreements, creating an LLC, S Corp, or Limited Partnership to protect your assets, and setting up a succession plan.
Get specific about distributions
Without detailed instructions, your assets might be distributed differently than you might wish. We can help you develop an estate plan that makes your wishes crystal clear and also aligns with your legally-binding wills.
Help others be prepared
Once your estate plan is in place, there’s one last step: preparing your executors, Power of Attorney holders, and beneficiaries. Because some people may lack legal or financial knowledge, business experience, or leadership skills, we can help educate and prepare your family, business partners, and other stakeholders.
Every financial plan should include an estate plan.
Estate planning is not just for the wealthy—it’s a vital piece of one’s larger financial plan. By planning for your estate now, you can preserve more of your wealth for your beneficiaries and help them avoid unnecessary hassle and expense. You also gain greater control and peace of mind.
Our experienced advisors can help you create an estate plan that’s right for your situation, and provide comprehensive support.
Your dedicated advisor will work with you—year after year—and provide ongoing investment management and estate-planning strategies. If your financial or family circumstances change—or your vision evolves—we can update your estate plan to reflect your wishes for the future.