I was visiting my dentist the other day, and while I was there, I asked him about some pain I was having in my ankle. He told me that what I needed to do was "walk it off," and I should feel better in a few days. Now that my ankle is the size of a grapefruit, I'm wondering if his advice was flawed...
Obviously, I made up that story. Hopefully, very few people, if any, would look for orthopedic advice from their dentist (no matter how smart their dentist may be).
Although such an occurrence would be strange, it is happening all the time in another context. Many people are going to their accountants and/or financial advisers to get legal advice. In fact, they might not even realize that is what they are actually doing.
Our attorneys are well versed in all aspects of estate planning, and we provide you with correct and updated information and instructions necessary to carry out your estate plan. However, some clients, in talking with their accountants and financial advisers, get advice to take actions that jeopardize their estate plans. This is similar to going to your dentist to get advice on an ankle injury!
Accountants and financial advisers play an important role in the estates of clients, and most perform their functions well. But planning an estate is a complex process that requires an in-depth understanding of state and federal tax, property, asset protection and health care laws, as well as how the individual client's goals and concerns are accommodated by the laws and planning strategies. Accountants and financial advisers do not have, nor should they be expected to have, the full picture in creating and maintaining an estate plan. Therefore, their advice on legal matters regarding your estate plan will not be adequate and will likely have a negative affect on your plan.
The two biggest areas in which we are seeing problems are beneficiary designations for life insurance policies and retirement plans. Generally, the beneficiary on your life insurance should be your trust. For a married couple, the beneficiary designation on a retirement account should be spouse primary and trust contingent. For a single person, the trust should be the beneficiary of both life insurance and your retirement accounts.
Just as you wouldn't enlist your dentist's aid for orthopedic matters, please be careful of any legal advice you might receive from your accountant or financial adviser concerning your estate plan. If any instructions or suggestions we have given are ever unclear to you, please contact us. We are always available to answer your estate planning questions
Contributed by MH Attorney James Plitz