Estate planning is often seen as a practice reserved for the wealthy, conjuring images of mansions, yachts, and enormous amounts of money. Many people assume that only the rich need to worry about estate planning, while others may feel that estate planning is a complex and unnecessary task that only applies to those with a large asset base.
However, this common misconception could not be further from the truth. Estate planning is not just for the rich or “high-net-worth individuals”. Estate planning is a crucial process that everyone, regardless of wealth status, should consider to protect their assets, their loved ones, and their legacy.
As a side note, a “high-net-worth individual” is someone whose net estate (where all assets such as real property/ies, businesses, investments, and cash, minus any liabilities) is estimated to be at least P100,000,000 or more. Now, this amount is a random number. It may go down as low as P50,000,000 or north of P150,000,000. But, the key here is liquidity.
Estate planning offers many benefits, such as asset protection, planning for major life events, tax savings, and transferring of wealth. Through estate planning, individuals can ensure that their assets and wealth are distributed according to their wishes. It also helps them to prepare for potential life changes, such as retirement, incapacity or death. Additionally, estate planning can help to minimize taxes, making the most of the individual’s wealth.
Contrary to popular belief, estate planning is not solely about money or the size of one’s estate. While wealthy individuals may have more complex estates with a higher value of assets to manage, estate planning is relevant for individuals of all income levels. Here are several key reasons why estate planning is not just for the wealthy:
Protecting Minor Children: Estate planning allows parents to designate guardians for their minor children in the event of their death or incapacitation. This is a critical aspect of estate planning that applies to all parents, regardless of their financial status.
Without proper estate planning, a court may appoint a guardian for the children, and it may not align with the parent’s wishes. Estate planning provides an opportunity for parents to name a guardian who will raise and care for their children according to their values and beliefs, in the event that both parents pass suddenly.
Managing Healthcare Decisions: Estate planning also involves creating documents such as a health care directive or a living will that specifies an individual’s wishes for medical treatment and end-of-life care. This is not limited to the wealthy; it applies to everyone.
Estate planning allows individuals to appoint someone to make healthcare decisions on their behalf if they are unable to do so. This can provide peace of mind and ensures that an individual’s medical treatment aligns with their values and preferences, regardless of their financial status.
Avoiding Probate: Probate is a special proceeding mandatorily required for the purpose of establishing the validity of a will. It can be time-consuming, costly, and public. Estate planning can help individuals avoid probate or minimize its impact.
This is relevant for individuals of all income levels, as probate proceedings are costly, and the complexity of probate depends on the size of the estate. If you have meager resources then the more it is important for you to consider estate planning to save on court costs, lawyer’s fees, and other expenses.
By creating a trust or implementing other estate planning strategies, individuals can ensure that their assets pass directly to their heirs outside of probate, allowing for a smoother and more private distribution of their estate.
Preserving Family Harmony: Estate planning can help avoid conflicts among family members that may arise after an individual’s death. Disputes over assets, inheritance, and distribution can often strain family relationships and cause irreparable damage.
Estate planning provides an opportunity for individuals to clearly outline their wishes and intentions, minimizing the potential for conflicts among family members. This is important for all families, regardless of their wealth or financial status, as family disputes can occur at any level of income.
Protecting Assets from Creditors or Lawsuits: Estate planning can also help protect an individual’s assets from creditors or lawsuits. This is not limited to the wealthy, as anyone can face potential liabilities or legal claims. Through estate planning techniques such as irrevocable trusts, individuals can safeguard their assets from potential creditors or legal actions. This can be particularly important for individuals who have valuable assets such as a home, investments, or a business, regardless of their level of wealth.
Charitable Giving: Estate planning provides an opportunity for individuals to leave a legacy by supporting charitable causes that are important to them. Charitable giving is not limited to the wealthy; individuals of all income levels can incorporate philanthropy into their estate planning.
Through various estate planning tools such as charitable trusts or bequests in a will, individuals can make a meaningful impact and leave a lasting legacy by supporting charitable organizations and causes that align with their values and beliefs.
Business Succession Planning: If an individual owns a business, estate planning can be crucial for ensuring its smooth transition to the next generation or a designated successor. This applies to small business owners and entrepreneurs, not just large corporations.
Business succession planning can help preserve the continuity and success of a business, protect the interests of other shareholders or partners, and ensure that the business continues to operate according to the owner’s vision and wishes after he/she passes away.
Tax Planning: While tax planning may seem like a concern only for the wealthy, it is an essential aspect of estate planning that applies to individuals at all income levels. Proper estate planning can help minimize the tax implications of transferring assets to heirs or beneficiaries, regardless of the size of the estate.
Strategies such as gifting, setting up trusts, or creating a charitable remainder trust can help individuals reduce their estate tax liabilities and maximize the number of assets that pass on to their loved ones.
Planning for Incapacity: Estate planning also involves planning for incapacity, which can happen to anyone regardless of their financial status. In the event that an individual becomes mentally or physically incapacitated and is unable to make decisions for themselves, estate planning documents such as powers of attorney and living trusts can ensure that their financial and healthcare decisions are managed according to their wishes.
Planning for incapacity is important for all individuals to ensure that their interests are protected and their healthcare and financial affairs are managed in their best interests. A case in point is the situation of Avelino “Samboy” Lim.
The Skywalker collapsed on the bench during an exhibition game in November 2014. He fell into a coma for five weeks due to cardiac arrest. He is currently wheelchair-bound and unable to speak and see. Of course, this incapacity was unplanned and sudden.
Peace of Mind: Lastly, estate planning provides peace of mind, knowing that one’s assets, loved ones, and wishes are protected and accounted for. It can be a source of comfort for individuals at all income levels to know that their affairs are in order, and their loved ones are taken care of according to their wishes.
Estate planning allows individuals to have control over their legacy and provides them with the assurance that their assets and wishes will be managed according to their intentions, regardless of their level of wealth.
In conclusion, we reiterate that estate planning is not just for the wealthy. It is a critical process that applies to individuals of all income levels. Remember, estate planning is not solely about money or the size of one’s estate.
Estate planning allows individuals to have control over their assets, legacy, and wishes and ensures that their loved ones are taken care of according to their intentions. It encompasses various aspects such as protecting minor children, managing healthcare decisions, avoiding probate, preserving family harmony, protecting assets, charitable giving, business succession planning, tax planning, planning for incapacity, and providing peace of mind.
By taking the time to plan, individuals can rest assured that their estate is in order when the inevitable happens. Therefore, it is never too early to start estate planning, regardless of one’s level of wealth. In fact, the earlier one starts, the more time they have to develop a comprehensive plan that aligns with their changing circumstances and goals.
Finally, it is important to consult with a qualified and experienced estate planning attorney or financial professional to help navigate the complexities of estate planning and create a customized plan that meets one’s specific needs and objectives.
Atty. Jojo is a real estate attorney, an estate planning attorney, a licensed real estate broker, and a PRC-accredited Lecturer/ Speaker for Training Programs in Real Estate. He is a Chartered Trust and Estate Planning (CTEP®) professional who is committed to educating Filipinos about the value and importance of having an estate plan in their lives.