By Leslee Jaquette, Andelcare Client Relations
I keep running into attorney Stephen M. Waltar at estate planning events around King County. He is actively networking, introducing himself and his Bellevue-based, exclusively estate planning law firm to professionals in the senior care industry.
At a recent Bellevue Brain Trust (BBT) meeting, I learned two interesting things about Stephen. He received a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. Secondly, as opposed to working as a minister, he went to law school and determined his true “calling” is helping clients with their estate planning needs.
At the BBT meeting, Stephen gave me a copy of his most recent book, ‘Legacy Wealth Planning.” While he laughingly describes the book as “an expensive business card,” it discusses a topic most of us (70-80 percent of Americans) would rather avoid. This short, east-to-read guide spells out answers to questions relating to how to go beyond traditional estate planning.
Due to the fact that I am currently wrestling with how best to organize my personal, albeit modest, estate for my children, I found Stephen’s book illuminating. Here, I share several take-aways from “Legacy Wealth Planning.”
Going Beyond Traditional Estate Planning
According to the book, traditional estate planning focuses on protecting clients’ material assets from probate and taxes. It uses tools such as a Last Will and Testament, Joint Ownership of Property and a “bare bones” Revocable Trust to handle the issue of what happens at the time of your death.
Some of the important real-life issues a Will fails to deal with include:
- It takes effect after you die – There is no way to use your Will to plan for disability during your lifetime.
- A Will goes through probate – It can be expensive, slow and your family does not have access to your assets.
- A Will is a public document – Anyone can see it.
- A Will is relatively easy to contest – Unhappy family members can bog down the works.
Family Wealth Trust Avoids Many Problems
In his book, Stephen discusses other instruments including Family Trusts. Although they have certain merits, he feels they are not as comprehensive as a Family Wealth Trust.
The two main assets to this form of estate planning are: it shields your assets during Guardianship and Conservatorship during your lifetime and from Probate at your death. Secondly, writes Stephen, “Legacy Wealth Planning gives you the means to capture your family’s history, biographies, life stories, wisdom and values for future generations.
A Family Wealth Trust is designed to:
- Shield your estate from Living Probate and Death Probate.
- Minimize or eliminate your estate tax bill.
- Protect your estate from lawsuits and creditors.
- Protect your estate in the event of your spouse’s remarriage.
- Allow steps to capture your family’s history, values and non-financial wealth.
This kind of trust can also be used to shield your children’s and grandchildren’s inheritances from their own future divorces, provide incentives to beneficiaries to accomplish certain goals and provide for a disabled loved one without threatening government benefits.
Naturally, according to Stephen, one of the most important aspects of developing a good plan is bringing knowledgeable, trusted advisors into the process. He underscores the importance of NOT relying on online document forms or on your neighbor’s over-the-fence advice. Stephen suggests individuals do their homework and look for professional, personalized advice from people they can trust.
Do you have your documents in order?