by Lisa Higgins, Contributing Editor
Step outside the boundaries of the employer/employee relationship, just for a moment. As a benefit professional or someone who runs a business, your focus is getting the business of the company done. Of course, that includes figuring how to get the best from your employees. Rewarding people fairly, in terms of money and benefits, helping them understand their importance in the business’ success, and communicating with them in a way that encourages their loyalty all contribute to that effort.
One day, though, your employees will no longer be your employees. It may happen when someone moves on to a different employer. Or, it could happen on the day your valued employee dies. How prepared is your employee for that day? Is there anything you can do to make it easier for those he or she leaves behind?
Estate Planning Valuable for Everyone
Estate planning is the answer. It is also a relatively painless process that many people think doesn’t apply to them. They may reason that their assets don’t amount to much, and that they’ve asked a close relative to look after the kids. Maybe they don’t own stocks, bonds, or real estate, and foreign bank accounts are, well, a foreign concept. Not only that, but talking about one’s own demise is depressing. All of this is a perfect recipe for ensuring that things don’t go the way we’d like them to once we’re gone.
Now rejoin us inside the boundary, once again an employer. What does all of this have to do with you? You are in a unique position, because it’s likely that the majority of your employees’ time is spent in the workplace. You can help them reach both a conclusion and a plan: the conclusion that they need to make an estate plan, no matter how modest their means.
Stephen R. Elville is an attorney, and a Principal at his firm, Elville & Associates, P.C. (www.elvilleassociates.com). In his practice, he spends a fair amount of time helping clients figure out how to organize their affairs today so their loved ones will face less of a burden tomorrow. Elville believes strongly in educating people about things that are hard to talk about. Of course, making an estate plan is one of those things.
At its core, an estate plan provides instruction for the things you own. It lets people know what you are passing along, to whom, and when. The usefulness of an estate plan, then, isn’t limited to the wealthy. Everyone owns things, and many want to see some of them passed along to people or causes they care about.
There is more to consider than simply “stuff,” though. For example, parents of minor children can’t rely on a verbal agreement about who will care for them if both parents are gone; they need a will to make the selection official. People also need to consider their own care if they become unable to care for themselves due to health or other issues. Those who provide care for a disabled family member should also think about that person’s ongoing needs, and make a provision for them as part of the estate plan.
Seek Partners to Provide Workshops
As an employer, you can help employees understand why an estate plan is so important, and even help them access the resources they need to create one. How? One way is by holding workshops or seminars for your employees. Elville’s firm is regularly invited to provide this kind of workshop, and he believes it’s a benefit that can make a real difference in the lives of valued employees.
Over the years, Elville has learned a few things about how to approach this delicate subject in order to make the biggest impact. The lessons learned include when to hold a workshop, who should present, and whom to invite.
The timing. While a brown bag lunch with a simultaneous presentation has its merits, Elville says taking advantage of different times may yield better results.
“When we deliver this kind of workshop during the day while people are eating their lunches, they like it and they ask questions. But the response is often not as robust as we think it should be,” he explains. “People are thinking about the work they have to get back to. That’s why we like to give workshops at other times.” Off-hour presentations, if properly timed, may also allow spouses to attend.
The presenters. It’s easy to find a local estate planning attorney, but finding one with an educational mindset is key, Elville says. He recommends starting the search through your existing network, like your CPA or other local professionals with whom you do business.
“For this kind of workshop, employers should deal with a lawyer who believes in education and is willing to spend some time. While the lawyer may ultimately get business from educating your employees, I believe employers need to seek someone to provide pure education.
“At the end of the presentation they should let people know they are here to help and how to get in touch. If the lawyer is willing to commit some time to reviewing an individual’s situation, so much the better. Ideally, you can find someone who is willing to do that.”
The audience. Elville says that a scatter-shot approach may not be best, for the same reason that general financial education is not one-size-fits-all: different topics are relevant in peoples’ lives at different times. In order for an estate planning workshop to have the greatest effect, it has to be relevant to its audience and it has to receive the right promotion from the employer.
“Statistically, 80% of people between 30 and 45 don’t have a will, even if they have young kids,” he says. “They’re busy with other things, and they’re not focused on estate planning at all. Interest varies by age; 30 to 45 year olds are generally not concerned with a lot of the traditional things that people 55 and older are concerned about.
“The 30 to 45 year-olds come in for one reason: they want to get guardians appointed for their minor children. Those over 55 are often concerned about marital protection—what happens if one remarries after the other dies, for example. So if the employer finds a lawyer who can target presentations to various age groups, that could make the sessions more successful.”
Employees could greatly benefit from an estate planning attorney who is willing to meet individually with them privately following the general session. “If the employer could let employees know that there will be an attorney available to meet for a free, 15-minute consultation after the workshop, it could generate greater attendance. Maybe the communications could let employees know that one of the biggest issues in estate planning is that wills don’t get updated, and a lawyer will be here who can review yours.
“Employers feel wonderful about helping their employees this way, but they need to make sure employees see the reasons to show up and take advantage of it.”
2017 is sure to be a year full of changes. Employees need to make sure their plans are on track with changes in health care, estate taxes, capital gains, and other issues that may come along with a new Administration. Make this the year to help your employees plan for those who come after them.