By Roya Moltaji
Living in the present and finding your “true north” are common themes today. But what about establishing an authentic self so solidly that it perpetuates into the future? We each have the ability to make a mark during our lifetime and to leave the full wake of our legacy behind. For some, legacy is highlighted by family relationships or friendships. For others, giving back to the community underscores life. We all have the opportunity to consciously shape the future, yet estate planning tends to be a topic that’s avoided. If you can give yourself permission to explore what you truly want for the future, you will find you have the power to make it so. Putting your thoughts on paper and creating legal documents is a gift to those you leave behind to handle your affairs and promotes the likelihood that your plans will be honored.
What kind of mark would you like to make? Charitable giving is one popular endeavor for individuals when shaping their legacy plans. It can be done during life or after your time on earth. No matter your inclination, charitable giving combines the compelling element of emotional impact along with important financial benefits. Including philanthropy in your legacy planning may be a priority for many reasons. Perhaps you would like to give back to those communities, organizations, or institutions that have played a role in your personal growth and development. Maybe you believe in the social benefit of serving society in general. Memorials to honor those who have been admired or respected have a special appeal. It could be that philanthropy has been part of your family’s culture and is an important tradition to continue and to instill in younger generations. Or, if annual income and expenses haven’t allowed for the magnitude of giving you had hoped for during your working years, estate planning may offer a way to support others eventually.
The recommended method of charitable giving both during life and at death depends on the size of the gift and the type of property given. Your desire for control and your need for income will also be considered, along with how much tax benefits matter to you. Luckily there are many professionals who can help you decipher the most beneficial charitable giving strategies based on these factors. Depending on the size of the charitable organization in mind, there may be staff members dedicated to legacy planning. Others may choose to partner with a family or community foundation, and still others may seek the advice of their financial planning team that includes a trusted adviser, accountant, and attorney. The GLBTQ community tends to benefit from a highly connected web of support, making it relatively easy to find proper resources.
What if charitable giving is not at the top of the list? Is estate planning still beneficial? Envisioning your hopes for the future and writing down the plan is almost always better than moving through life without articulating your intentions. It may be especially important to include or exclude certain family members, friends, or others in your decisions about who will receive pieces of your belongings — both monetarily and in terms of personal property. Our community sometimes faces the challenge of experiencing disapproval from our families of origin. Ensuring that assets are passed to a significant other may be a contested intention if not properly documented. Second marriages or blended families can complicate matters further. Deciding who should receive various assets or belongings can be stressful, but in the absence of estate planning, the state of residence holds the power to determine where assets will go upon death. For many, the thought of one’s own death is less than appealing, but the thought of allowing the state to make the decisions is worse.
Fortunately, estate planning can be as simple or as complicated as you would like to make it. Retirement accounts require a beneficiary to be listed, as do life insurance policies. At the very least, you have the obligation to choose the heir to these types of accounts. It is worth noting that any asset that has a named beneficiary will bypass the probate process and will not be redirected by state law. The avoidance of state determination can also be achieved by the titling of an asset. For instance, if a married couple owns a bank account jointly with rights of survivorship, the account will certainly pass to the surviving spouse when the first spouse dies. Planning can become more complex when aging parents are involved, when family dynamics are in flux, when multiple properties exist, when a family business has been built or passed through the family, and in many other circumstances.
Establishing a personal financial plan not only provides control and clarity, but also offers significant financial benefit. Tax saving solutions, protection solutions, income solutions and growth-oriented solutions are the primary topics addressed by the financial services industry. Leveraging the knowledge and expertise of financial professionals can help set you up for a financially effective plan. This in turn positions you to live authentically with confidence about the future.
Every one of us has an estate plan written out for us. It’s simply a matter of who the author is of the final draft.
Roya Moltaji is a Financial Services Representative with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. MetLife representatives do not provide tax or legal advice.