Legacy planning doesn’t need to be a “Good Doctor” episode

| January 12, 2024

When you’re a surgeon, you tend to see medical issues through the lens of a surgeon, with the scalpel as your tool in trade. There might be a different solution, however. Maybe you don’t need Dr. Shaun Murphy from “The Good Doctor” to repair your back — it’s possible physical therapy can get you back on the golf course.

Estate attorneys sometimes have the same view of legacy planning. They can push clients toward putting everything into trusts. But there are easier ways to ensure you can take care of the people you care about.

For many people, just making sure the beneficiary designations on your assets are correct might go a long way toward having them distributed the way you want. A good time to check your beneficiaries for all your insurance and financial products is when your employer notifies you about annual benefits enrollment.

Another important time to check beneficiaries is after major life events. This likely would include the birth of children or grandchildren, the death of a beneficiary, or a divorce or marriage.

For many financial and insurance products, updating your beneficiaries is pretty easy. You probably can check or update much of this information online. But we often help clients through beneficiary designations because sometimes the situation isn’t so clear-cut.

For a 401(k), for example, if you want to name a beneficiary who isn’t your spouse, you might need to have a spousal consent form on file. Or you might want to split these assets among several primary beneficiaries.

And you’ll need to consider your beneficiary designations in light of your will. Things can get complicated if your will and beneficiary designations aren’t aligned. Say you start up an investment account after you graduate college. You name your parents as beneficiaries, but then get married. So you create a will passing everything to your spouse, but this account still lists your parents as beneficiaries. If they pass away but you don’t update the beneficiaries, think of the complications that can ensue.

The goal with legacy planning should be to make sure there are no questions about who gets what. Creating an airtight accounting of beneficiaries, where the names on the accounts match what’s specified in the will, can streamline the probate process.

People usually don’t mean to create problems with the passing of their assets onto heirs. I suspect that when disputes do arise, in many cases the reason is that the original owners simply thought their will would supersede any other directive, or they viewed this basic legacy planning as—understandably—unpleasant.

Which brings me back to making this an automatic process. Having a trigger, such as an email from the HR department about benefits elections, can keep emotions out of the process. Or make it an agenda item when you meet with your financial professional. Because making sure your beneficiaries are correct is important and sometimes can involve complexity, but it’s not like you’re performing brain surgery.



Evan R. Guido is the Founder of Aksala Wealth Advisors LLC, a 2018 Forbes Next-Gen Advisors List Member, and Financial Professional at Avantax Investment ServicesSM. Evan heads a team of retirement transition strategists for clients who consider themselves the “Millionaire Next Door.” He can be reached at 941-500-5122 or eguido@aksalawealth.com.   Read more of his insights at https://finance.heraldtribune.com/category/ask-guido/. Securities offered through Avantax Investment ServicesSM, Member FINRA, SIPC.  Investment advisory services offered through Avantax Advisory ServicesSM, Insurance services offered through  an Avantax affiliated insurance agency.  6260 Lake Osprey Dr. Lakewood Ranch, FL 34240.  The views and opinions presented in this article are those of Evan R. Guido and not of Avantax Wealth Management® or its subsidiaries.  Past performance does not guarantee future results. The S&P 500 is an index of 500 major, large-cap U.S. corporations. Standard & Poor's is a corporation that rates stocks and corporate and municipal bonds according to risk profiles. The S&P 500 is an index of 500 major, large-cap U.S. corporations. You cannot invest directly in an index.  An investment in a money market fund is not insured or guaranteed by the FDIC or any other government agency.  Although the Fund seeks to preserve the value of your investment at $1.00 per share, it is possible to lose money by investing in the Fund.  CDs are FDIC insured and offer a fixed rate of return.  They do not necessarily protect against a rising cost of living.  The FDIC insurance on CDs applies in case of insolvency of the bank, but does not protect market value.  Other investments are not insured and their principal and yield may fluctuate with market conditions. Investments are subject to market risks including the potential loss of principal invested.