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Fewer Steps in Planning: Making Your Life Easier

Time is money. The less time it takes to provide a client with their estate plans, the more you can focus on finding and retaining new clients. In other words, the more efficient you are, the more money you'll earn.

But in order to find more time in your workday, you need to find a way to work more efficiently. This means creating new systems. It also means finding software that can support you and your clients.

To help you become more efficient, here are a few ways to create a system that allows you to take fewer steps in planning your client's estate plans.

Perform a Thorough Inventory

You can't take any actual steps in planning for someone's estate if you have no idea what they really own. Also, there's no reason to waste your time working with a client who doesn't have enough assets to justify estate planning.

Start by having your clients provide you with a full list of their tangible assets. Those assets include their homes or other types of real estate. It also includes all their vehicles like motorcycles, boats, and cars.

If they own any collectibles like coins, antiques, or wine, include it on the list. Have them include any other personal possessions that have value.

Next, have your clients provide you with a list of their intangible assets. This list should include their checkings and savings accounts as well as any certificates of deposit.

It should also include all their stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. If they hold any retirement accounts like a 401(k) or a SEP, include those on the list. Also, include any life insurance policies.

Lastly, if they hold any interest in a business, this is also considered an intangible asset.

Take Into Account Their Needs and Those of Their Family

Now that you and your client have a sense of what's in the estate, the next steps in planning are to protect it and the client’s family.

Make sure your clients have enough life insurance. Especially if they're married and depend on dual incomes. If there are children involved, a policy is even more important.

In cases where the client is planning on paying for the children's education or there is a special-needs child, making sure your client protects the family is your number one priority.

Of course, there are many variables when it comes to insurance. There are different types of policies such as whole life versus term life. At this point, the steps in planning need to account for the client’s household income, the needs of the children, and any other dependants, e.g., aging parents or other assets.

Don't forget to have your client name a guardian and a backup guardian in the will. This way, the client's wishes for the children's care have a better possibility of being granted should something happen.

When both a guardian and a backup guardian are named in the will,  a judge is more likely to rule in your client’s favor. The client’s estate won't be lost to relatives squabbling over who gets the kids-- or the money. Instead, clients can rest easy knowing the children and the money is taken care of--even in the event of a  sudden passing or incapacitation.

Knowing the Federal and State Laws is One of the Most Vital Steps in Planning

Many people take these steps in planning to minimize estate and inheritance taxes. But at the federal level, it's only extremely large estates that are subject to estate taxes.

In 2017, federal law allowed a federal exemption of up to $5.49 million. For 2018, it's $11.2 million per couple.

Luckily, only a few states have their own estate tax laws. These states might levy taxes not only on estates but on those valued below the federal government's exemption amount. Sometimes, these states also tax those who inherit the assets.

If you have clients who are from various states, get to know their local laws to save yourself and your client some time. The following states (and Washington DC) collect an estate tax:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Illinois
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

There are six states that levy an inheritance tax. This tax is paid by the beneficiary, not the estate. However, in all states, transferring assets to a spouse is exempt from inheritance tax.

In certain states, this exemption extends to children and close relatives.

The six states are:

  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania

Create a Plan That Includes Solutions to Potential Problems

One of the most important steps in planning is to include solutions for potential problems that may arise.

Potential problems include: your client realizing he/she no longer wants the estate to go to the listed beneficiaries, for whatever reason. If there is disharmony in the family, it may be smarter to have your client choose a revocable trust as opposed to a will.

Suggesting your clients establish living wills is also a good idea. Should something happen where they are incapacitated, they'll need a voice to speak for them when they can't.

Also, speak to them about a good disability plan. The right disability plan can help ensure your client’s assets don’t end-up in a court supervised guardianship or conservatorship.

Court supervised guardianships or conservatorships can lead to loved ones losing control of what happens to your client, the person who owns the estate and their property.

The last steps in planning are to ensure you and your client prepare a plan for what happens to him/her and the estate after they die. This means determining who inherits what-- and when they'll get it.

Choose the Right Software

It's much easier to create an effective plan to protect your clients and their families when you're working with the right software.

It's also less likely you'll forget something vital, meaning your client can avoid making common mistakes associated with estate planning.

Our software uses language both you and your client can easily understand, making mistakes and confusion an uncommon occurrence.

Most of our clients actually cut 50% off their documentation preparation time. Improve your business and finally get the ability to grow your practice. To learn more, request a pricing and sample document here.

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  • 3 Bethesda Metro Center, Suite 500, Bethesda MD

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