“Conventional estate planning focuses most of the attention on assets rather than family. Structures and strategies emphasize tax savings over family needs. The planning perspective needs more focus on protecting the family as opposed to protecting assets or preserving wealth.”

-George Bearup, Senior Trust Advisor at Greenleaf Trust

The philosophy of protecting the family while incorporating strategies to protect and preserve wealth is an important part of the Greenleaf Trust process. Our client centric teams work closely with families helping to navigate through the challenging and inevitable process of passing life’s assets and values on to the next generation. We regularly review estate plans to incorporate law changes. The grantor’s estate plan is also reviewed through a lens of determining how next generations may be impacted. In most cases, future beneficiaries are not involved in the review meetings. However, as George highlighted, it is important to consider how an inheritance will impact the family going forward.

There are many good reasons why grantors do not include future beneficiaries in the review meetings. It is rarely the desire of the grantor to have a “keep them guessing” motivation by not providing the family the details of their plan. In most cases, the end goal of the grantor is to provide a benefit, not a burden, for their family. Typically, the surviving family members become part of the meetings when the grantor becomes disabled or dies. At that point, for many of our clients, the Greenleaf Trust estate settlement team becomes involved with the relationship. Our estate settlement team has the same goals of bringing families together, but this group joins the family during a very difficult time. When a grantor becomes disabled or dies, the client centric team and estate settlement team work in concert with the family’s trusted tax and legal advisors settle the descendant’s estate according to the wishes outlined in the estate planning documents. If the plan has not been clearly communicated or if pieces of the puzzle are missing, there can be many questions and missed opportunities for understanding the rationale behind the plan.

We are continually looking for solutions and opportunities to bring families together before disability or death. We also strive to know everything about a grantors financial life to assure passage of their wealth in the most beneficial manner. Often, the most important aspect of the plan does not center around taxes or assets, but rather family relationships and the well-being of future beneficiaries. In many circumstances, the grantor can also benefit from learning what concerns or issues their future beneficiaries may have. Facilitating a discussion among the grantors and the future heirs is often beneficial to the family.

Some families may want to share every detail, including asset values, cherished possessions, and possibly “hidden” treasures. Others may choose to keep the conversation at a very high level, only discussing the basics, such as who takes over control once the grantor is no longer willing or able to act. The goal should always be to establish communication between all members of the family and provide an environment where the grantor can express their decisions as only they can communicate. These conversations are an opportunity to fully review the grantors financial picture from an estate settlement point of view while the grantor is able to make any necessary changes to the plan if needed.

Reviewing the full estate settlement process at a time when the surviving family members are experiencing grief and loss is not ideal. The conversation is difficult to have, but knowing the plan today will help the family prepare for what will happen tomorrow.

The goal of both our client centric team and our estate settlement team is to provide your family with a full understanding of your plan and allow you the benefit to change or correct any issues while you are alive. This will save your family time, money and agony when the inevitable time comes. If you would like to discuss your plan and the estate settlement process in greater detail, please contact your client centric team member.