Dear Michael: We have our wills done to our satisfaction. We have helped two of our sons get into the business of farming and they are thriving. We have a daughter who is to receive the proceeds of a second-to-die life insurance policy, as well as our savings – which are considerable. As we approach our 70s, we feel like we have everything covered. We don’t have long-term care insurance, but with the income we have off the farm and with our savings, we feel pretty comfortable. Is everything we have enough? – Sitting Pretty
Dear Sitting Pretty: When I help my clients build their estate plan, I feel it’s my job to teach clients about all the “if’s” involved and how to protect against them. In my mind, I see it like a jigsaw puzzle. Much like farming, you build it piece by piece over the years. Each piece represents something you have done to build both your farm and your estate plan.
For example, an integral piece to the puzzle would be having a will. If you’re familiar with jigsaw puzzles, you always start by finding the outside perimeter pieces and putting them together first so you’ll have a picture frame of the puzzle. This is how I see the will – it frames the rest of your estate plan.
Other integral pieces are what the will has in it, much like a puzzle. Is there a personal representative named? Do you have a plan for what happens when you die? For example, if the man dies, how does the wife handle machinery and other transitory assets?
You’ve done many of these pieces already. You’ve got the will, the transition spelled out in the will, the second-to-die policy to supplement your daughter’s inheritance. You two have almost all of the pieces of the puzzle. Congratulations!
Other parts of the estate plan puzzle have to do with living “worries.”
Let’s say the missing piece in your estate plan is how you plan to deal with what happens if you get hurt or disabled and need assistance. Your whole life you’ve depended on health insurance to pay for medical costs. You wouldn’t dream of going without Medicare and a supplement. Yet many people refuse to invest in their own beliefs when it comes to estate planning.
Do you want to receive assistance at home? If so, do you want your spouse to provide ALL of this assistance 24-7? Most people would say no, but when the time comes and you may have to dig into your pile of significant savings, most people won’t do it.
Funny thing is you can take about a tenth of your savings, buy a hybrid long-term care policy that takes care of you if you need care at home – or eventually move to a facility. Or it pays a much higher death benefit tax-free to your children than your cash if you never use it. And you can take your money out any time without penalties. It also protects against seeing your daughter’s inheritance get used to pay for your care costs – if you’re lucky enough to live long enough when care gets really, really expensive.
Most of the estate plans I work on have this missing piece of the puzzle – which is unfortunate because more farms are lost these days from long-term care than they are from estate taxes. Why not use some of your savings to provide 100 percent surety? No more “what if?”
It’s so simple and yet people fail to finish their estate plan puzzle leaving a big gap where there shouldn’t be one.