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Estate Planning… The Match Game™, Jeopardy™ or Family Feud™?

Those of us who are TV junkies and are old enough remember the above game shows remember the premise behind them. While all were friendly and meant to put a smile on your face by a half hour of mindless entertainment, estate planning for you and your family is far more serious and can take many twists and turns depending on how you do your planning. Wealth management is more than just managing your investments: the responsibility of the planning and ultimate disbursement of your assets is a large part of the puzzle. Not only does it entail who gets your money and belongings, but also entails tax planning and strategies far beyond the "here it is" strategy.

I've always taught my clients that the four most important people in their life (aside from family) are their CPA, Lawyer, Doctors and Certified Financial Planner™. In the investment industry, there is a loophole that has not yet been filled: anyone call call themselves a financial advisor- there is no rule yet to date that stops a person with no experience from calling themselves as such. Therefore, the person you may utilize to help with your investments may or may not be licensed to handle investments, but just because they call themselves an Investment Advisor, Financial Planner and the like. It does not mean a thing- if they don't have the applicable designations to prove their education as a Certified Financial Planner™ or other certified professional practitioner, they have no proof of expertise in the planning arena. The management of your money extends far beyond just buying mutual funds, stock, bonds or other investments or placing your funds- it involves your family, goals, objectives, and ultimately taking care of your surviving spouse or partner and the disbursement to the next generation or whoever you choose to leave your estate to. This takes education, experience, tenure and the ability to ask you the right questions to devise the right plan. Just investing your money isn't enough- it's only a small piece of the puzzle.

From my vast experience in the investment and estate planning business as a Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner (close to 35 years) most people focus almost solely on return, and either avoid or are not approached to deal with the future of your fortune as well as the well-being of the folks left behind. Judging your "investment guy" (or woman) by performance alone can severely hurt you if you don't do your overall planning, which is far more than just chasing performance. The taxability of your investments will determine not how much you earn, but how much you keep during your lifetime. Generational planning is the key to the success to the transfer of wealth. Taking it too lightly or not at all can mean the loss of much of your lifetime of earnings, or dramatically reduce the amount of inheritance you leave to the next generation. All families are different and must be treated as such. The relationship you have with your investment person is crucial to the smooth transfer of wealth upon your demise, and for the heirs that receive it. The saying "it takes a village" is not far off…it takes a well tenured team. Proper provisions must be made for those who need it, and only you and those close to you can proficiently advise you as to how to do it. Don't wait: there are laws that dictate how and when planning must be done to maximize the effectiveness of efficient planning.

Drafting your legal documents does not mean you're going to die tomorrow. It means you are giving serious thought as to how, why and to whom you plan to take care of when you are gone with the assets you worked a lifetime to accumulate. The last thing you want is to leave behind a "Family Feud" and to be remembered negatively by those you dedicated your life to. Most planning strategies can be adjusted or changed if necessary- never wait for the "right time": do what's right, and only you can know what is right. Help those in need, and be remembered for the loving, caring person you are- I can't think of a better way to plan your legacy…plan…that's the operative word.

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