Passing your hard earned wealth to the next generation is not as easy as writing a will.
The Covid-19 pandemic which started two years ago still lingers on today, which has affected the planning of individuals and businesses in many ways.
As far as estate planning for one’s estate is concerned, the awareness on the need to do personal estate planning has been heightened. This can be demonstrated by the fact that many will-writing and trustee companies have reported a jump in their will-writing business in the past two years. The unexpected spike in deadly casualties due to the attack by the Covid-19 virus has rattled many who began to worry about their health and safety.
What is estate planning?
Estate planning is actually more than having your will written, though it is a basic instrument in estate planning. To put it in layman’s terms, you can say that it is a well-thought through planning process to ensure that your loved ones are protected, your hard-earned assets are preserved, and your accumulated wealth is perpetuated to more than three generations.
You have probably heard of this Chinese saying that goes “Wealth does not pass through three generations”. Interestingly the Americans have a similar saying, “Shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations”. These sayings show that estate planning is both necessary and crucial, especially for those who are on their way to, or have accumulated a fair amount of wealth.
Is writing a will estate planning?
Most people have the impression that having a will written is having done their estate planning. Water is essential for soup, but soup is more than just water. In actual fact, there are more legal instruments than just a will, such as a testamentary or living trust, a shareholders agreement, a Labuan foundation, life insurance and its use of nomination. Even an EPF nomination or a joint-account, planned intelligently is an instrument in estate planning.
Integrated approach to estate planning
Thus, there is a need to integrate all your estate planning instruments into a coherent estate plan. This is because the various instruments you choose must work together to address all your concerns in the event you depart from this physical world.
On top of that, your estate planning must also be able to handle the situation, though less likely, in the most tragic event that you and your beloved spouse were to perish at the same time, or die within a short span of each other. We have seen such tragedies occur during this pandemic.
Estate planning must be objective-driven
As the estate planning industry in Malaysia is still very product-driven, financial consumers end up with, and having being sold, a will or a bunch of fragmented products. The danger in such a scenario is that when the time comes, there will still be gaps that will not be covered by the products, and left the beneficiaries dangerously exposed.
To eliminate such a risk, your estate plan must be objective-driven. What this means is that your estate plan must achieve all your intended objectives when the time comes.
To help you think through and to write down your estate planning objectives, you can refer to the 3Ps model in estate planning – protect, preserve and perpetuate your estate.
3Ps model in estate planning
Your first estate planning objective must always start with protecting your intended beneficiaries. Their welfare and financial well-beings must always be highest on your list. This is especially true when you have beneficiaries who are under-aged, be they your minor children or grandchildren. Parents with special needs children must also pencil in this objective when they start thinking about what will happen to their special need child if and when they, as parents, predecease the children.
Secondly, you must set in your mind to preserving your hard-earned wealth if you were to suffer an untimely demise. The tragedies we know of during this pandemic among our friends, and actual incidents we read in the newspapers remind us that life is uncertain and no one is immortal.
Preserving your wealth means you take deliberate strategies to prevent your wealth from being poached by potential creditors. It also includes preserving your wealth from being destroyed or diminished in its financial value from potential business risks as well as unexpected professional liability exposure. You can imagine it as a financial tsunami that hits you when you least expect it. The business and work environments faced by business owners and professionals can be quite unpredictable, especially in the post-pandemic world.
Thirdly, you should plan in such a way that your beloved family members and descendants will be blessed by your hard-earned accumulated wealth beyond three generations. In this modern and IT-centric world, there are many potential risks of losing your wealth when you pass your wealth to the next generation.
We have seen some people’s wealth dissipated due to low financial intelligence of their descendants; and some lost through scams; business failures or in some cases through indulgence of their descendants. It is always wise to be extra careful when you do your planning. When it comes to planning your own hard-earn estate, it is expected of you to exercise the same standard of care.
About the author
Lee Khee Chuan is a chartered financial consultant (ChFC), chartered life underwriter (CLU), CFP professional, and Fellow, Life Management Institute (FLMI) USA. He is also a licensed financial adviser representative with more than 25 years’ experience in estate planning. To learn more, visit: www.estateplanningmalaysia.com