Sunday, February 22, 2009

Estate Planning in the Popular Press

A series of articles recently, in newspapers and online, have highlighted the importance of estate planning.

The New York Times (Paul Sullivan, January 26, 2009): Sullivan summarizes the benefits of putting an estate plan in place and periodically revisiting and/or updating it.

Sullivan doesn't mince words in describing the importance of a will:

Everybody should have a will, and people who are married and/or have dependent children are inexcusably foolish if they do not.There are significant issues that only a will can clarify."

Slate (Bonnie Goldstein, October 27, 2008): Goldstein explores the ways in which patterns of wealth transfer are changing. She highlights the importance of (a) people living longer and (b) the increased frequency of second marriages and stepfamilies:

"Intergenerational wealth transfer ... is no longer a significant portion of the retirement equation.

Philanthropy, longevity, and serial marriages begetting multiple heirs have eroded patriarchal estates. For nonagenarian and octogenarian parents, a positive net worth is less imperative than a long-term care plan. Even when substantial holdings remain for heirs, their bestowal isn't always benevolent."

Goldstein specifically cautions about the potential for conflicting interests between the immediate beneficiaries of testamentary trusts (often, the surviving spouse) and the more remote beneficiaries (the children or subsequent generations).

Newsweek (Jane Bryant Quinn, October 12, 2007): Quinn focuses on the extent to which assets are often transferred, today, outside of one's will:

"Nowadays your will may affect only a fraction of what you own. Most of your serious property will probably pass outside your will, through joint ownership, living trusts or the beneficiary forms attached to life insurance and retirement accounts.

If the forms aren't in sync (and they're often not), the wrong person might inherit or an adult child (maybe you) might get less than the parents intended. Risks multiply with divorce and remarriage. An ex-wife might still be named on an old insurance policy. A new husband might inherit and cut his stepchildren out."
As the economy continues to limp along and we all become a bit more focused on making sure our wealth is protected, I imagine the media may continue to focus on the importance of estate planning in preparing for individuals', and families', futures.