Impartial advisor key to successful estate plan

Farm Forum

The last several columns I have written have focused on the fact that there is absolutely no need and even less benefit to your family to have an overly complicated estate plan. If you put some thought into the subject, why would you want such a thing? There are more than enough planners that will try and dazzle you with talk of any number of trusts, valuation methods, and the like. For those of us out here in the real world, most-if not all-of this simply is not necessary. I have alluded to taking the most straightforward approach possible and even in this ever changing and convoluted world; this still rings true.

There are those that will try and convince you otherwise. Please keep your eyes wide open as they are paid by the hour and not by the results. Quite frankly, they provide themselves job security and a substantial ongoing income by keeping these things so complicated that your family is dependent upon them now, at your passing, and well beyond. They tend to justify their fees and fancy offices with maneuvers that are more fitting for a market manipulating hedge fund manager than a farmer. Yes, I am referring to some of those of in the legal profession. Not all are of this nature and there are some darn good and conscientious attorneys around, but more than enough are of this mindset and far too many folks just accept their advice blindly without the proper amount of thought and perspective and end up with a complex and expensive plan that is all but impossible to understand, let alone explain to family members.

Uncomplicated and effective equals cost effective. Mind you, I would never recommend you skimp on something as important as your estate plan. But, you do not need to spend big bucks in order to further confuse your life. Quite the opposite, when your plan is completed, you should walk away with a sense of understanding and a serene calm; knowing all of you family’s affairs are in order. Not just in the financial sense, but comforted that your family’s interpersonal relationships will remain intact.

Isn’t this what you are really after in the first place? Yes, you obviously want to ensure that all of your and previous generations hard work is passed down with the least amount of expense and fanfare, but in the end, family harmony is always the paramount concern. And with recent tax law changes and the pertinent use of a few select financial vehicles, this is now a fairly easy thing to do. Therefore the aforementioned fact that most of us do not need all of the legal mumbo jumbo. Once you have decided who gets what and how to compensate off farm heirs, a basic will is often all that is needed.

To get to this point it is imperative to have an objective impartial advisor that is results orientated and, most importantly, puts your family’s interests ahead of their own. Someone who can sort through all of your family members concerns and do so in an unemotional manner… something families have a great deal of difficulty doing themselves. It is best not to go this alone and seek out a competent advisor. Experience does count here, and it is wise to seek out a seasoned advisor who can ask the thought provoking questions, analyze your situation, and then make recommendations. Once you have weighed all of the options provided to you and have consulted with your family, it is then time to seek counsel of a qualified attorney who specializes in this area.

Dennis Foster has advised family businesses on estate and financial planning since 1991, and can be reached at 605-887-7069. His column is published the first Friday of each month. The information provided is intended to be of a generic educational nature. Seek professional tax and legal advice for your specific situation.