May 2014

Take Your Estate Plan to a Higher Level

Estate Planning can be thought of in Levels. Many people contact our office thinking about Level I Planning, which is characterized by statements like "I need to make a Will" or "Our estate plan is old and we need to update it." They are correct that this is the right place to start, but your planning can do a lot more. Many of our highest earning clients are constantly going through a process in their business lives of eliminating old systems that served them well in the past and creating new ones that will lead to even higher levels of success in the future. We really enjoy helping clients do the same in their personal lives.

Below are some thoughts on each Level of Planning.

3 Levels of Estate Planning

Level I Planning

Mindset: "We will prevent disaster."

Goals: Develop a "safety net" so that your family and advisors can maintain your family's lifestyle in your absence, whether temporary or permanent.


  • Who will help you and your family in case of death/incapacity?
  • Who will own your property?

Level II Planning

Mindset: "We will help create our best life."

Goals: Look at ways to optimize your resources in light of specific family challenges and opportunities.


  • Review your list of assets and gauge the susceptibility of loss to creditors of each one. On a scale of 1 to 10, your retirement account may be protected to an "8." Your non-retirement brokerage account, on the other hand, is more likely a "2." The assets inside your business are often less than a "5", which is a shame given their important contribution to your family's lifestyle.
  • Consider whether tailored approaches to special assets, like vacation homes, may help family cohesiveness.

Level III Planning

Mindset: "We will help create a great life for others."

Goals: Implement strategies - utilizing your ideas and wealth - to help create the best future for those you care about.

Ideas include:

  • Constructing the right team (of family members and advisors) to support loved ones or employees as they mature.
  • Zeroing in on the amounts that children and grandchildren can withdraw from their inheritance over time.
  • Scheduling a Family Meeting to help you be more proactive about your family's legacy.
  • Implementing any of a host of techniques that involve funds that will benefit charities. You can establish separate family foundations that run on their own or earmark funds with other, already-established charities and delegate more of the control -and administrative work - to them. In either case, there are tax benefits as well as the peace of mind that your wealth is supporting the right causes.