More and more Michigan residents have an estate plan that is “trust-based.” This means that the key distribution document within their plan is a trust. You can find out more about trusts by clicking here to read my post “what is a trust?” And yet many of these estate plans will fail to do everything you intended them to do. Why? Well, that’s the point of this post!
The key thing to remember with a trust is that it only accomplishes all its advantages if it is fully “funded.” What do I mean by “funded?” That means that everything you own is somehow titled (owned) in the name of the trust. It could be by actually naming the trust as owner, making the trust a beneficiary of an account, or some other method. The point is, a trust is like a car – your estate planning attorney should have taken you through a comprehensive process of picking the “options” you want (like a window sticker). And yet your trust won’t accomplish all you wanted if it’s not properly funded, much like that new car won’t go anywhere without gas.
Many Michigan estate plans fail to accomplish everything you wanted because the trust is not properly funded. And here’s the kicker – the traditional approach to estate planning is partly to blame! That’s right, I’m putting part of the blame on how estate planning is done. Here’s how I was initial taught: you meet with an attorney who seems to know what they’re talking about (and hopefully focuses in estate planning), but you may not want to ask many questions because you figure the attorney will just take care of it and it will be fine. You’ll come back in a few weeks and sign some documents, again probably not asking many questions. Then you’ll take your fancy planning binder home, put it on the shelf and mark “estate planning” off your life checklist.
If you’ve done estate planning, does that sound familiar? Probably. And yet your trust is likely sitting there with just $10 or your personal property in it. Your attorney probably told you that the trust needed to be “funded” and gave you a written list of instructions on how to do it. But you read them and found them difficult to follow and it wasn’t really emphasized that your plan could very likely fail to accomplish all you want if the trust wasn’t funded, so you don’t do it.
So what happens? Your life, the law, and what you have changes over the years and yet your plan sits there with an unfunded trust that hasn’t kept up with any of those changes. Then something happens and your family is stuck dealing with a plan that is outdated and may accomplish very little of what you wanted.
To me this is a HUGE problem and needed to be changed. Well, much like the story of the little boy who was throwing little fish back in the ocean, knowing that he made a difference to “that one,” I set out to make a difference for my clients. How? Follow-up. Not only do I make sure that questions are asked and answered and put a very strong emphasis on the importance of funding their trust, I take some extra steps.
I provide an asset spreadsheet listing all that you own so you can go to one sheet instead of looking through a pile of paperwork. An added bonus is this helps with financial organization too! I regularly check in with my clients to find out the progress they’ve made or give them a gentle nudge if the trust funding isn’t moving along. I’ve gone as far as to call a client every month for well over a year! Why, because it is too important to fund your trust. Sure, it may have been a little annoying, but it got them moving on funding their trust, which is the most important part. I know that my clients trust me and have spent their hard-earned money for me to help design and implement their estate plan. I would be letting them down if I did anything less! And finally, I take care of all of the funding for some of my clients (for an additional fee). This gives them the peace of mind of knowing that it’s done and done correctly.
So, what about you? Do you have an trust-based estate plan? Is the trust funded? Are you SURE it’s funded and funded correctly? If not, it’s time to do something about that!
If you want a client-centered, personal service-based approach, give us a call.
Michael Lichterman is an estate planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™. This goes beyond merely planning for finances – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you. He focuses on planning for the “experienced” generation, the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, and family owned business succession – and he is privileged to do so from a Christian perspective. He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.