Estate planning is the process of accumulating, preserving and distributing assets to achieve your financial goals during your lifetime, as well as to provide for your heirs according to your wishes at death.
As such, estate planning is not a one-time event. Instead, it is an ongoing process designed to accomplish accumulation, preservation and distribution objectives – both during your lifetime and after your death. There are three important objectives of this process:
- Accumulation: Estate accumulation objectives involve accumulating assets and net worth during your lifetime by systematically channeling money into savings, insurance and investment plans.
- Preservation: Estate preservation objectives include protecting your ability to earn an income during your working years and planning to minimize and offset estate shrinkage at your death.
- Distribution: Estate distribution objectives deal with identifying and implementing the tools and techniques that will distribute estate assets to heirs in an advantageous manner that is consistent with your wishes.
John Gromala, an estate planning mediator, and the Wyoming Agriculture & Natural Resource Mediation Program and University of Wyoming’s Cooperative Extension Service point out that even those who have estate plans often have not had serious conversations with family members regarding their content. He notes that heirs are rarely consulted. Moreover, he writes, “it is dangerous to assume that a ‘happily married’ couple is communicating well about the division of their estate.”
This becomes even more evident, he indicates, when this is a second marriage for the senior generation. As Gromala notes, “avoidance of conflict by ignoring it is considered a virtue by many people. They gloss over sensitive areas to preserve ostensible harmony. Unfortunately, glossing over a problem today invariably spawns a greater conflict tomorrow.”
Additionally, a failure to talk with family members about the senior generations’ estate plan can adversely affect family relations long into the future.
In the video below, a Practical Farmers of Iowa segment shows a fifth-generation farmer discuss the basics of estate and succession planning along with the tools and terminology.