Five Reasons Baby Boomers Need To Review Estate Plans (And It’s Not About Taxes)

Kaycee Krysty, Forbes Magazine  3/29/2012

Conventional wisdom has it that baby boomers are about to receive one of the largest waves of inheritance in history. But in a recent speech, “Capacity for Care: Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow,” Paul G. Schervish, Boston College professor and renowned researcher on wealth and philanthropy in America, made a startling pronouncement: Boomers will give away much more than they receive.

That’s a call to action to review our estate plans. Wills, trusts and other documents put in place years ago may no longer reflect who you are, what you care about or what you have today. With so much at stake, being intentional about who gets what is more important than ever. It’s not about our parent’s generation anymore. It’s about us.

In fact, Schervish’s remarks really hit home for me. Just before our recent trip to Hawaii, my husband Michael and I suddenly discovered that although we had talked about changes in our plan, we had never gotten around to communicating them to our attorney. Yikes! We found in our file notes about possible changes and marked up old documents, but no new ones. You can bet that this resulted in a flurry of activity before we got on a jet to fly over the ocean.

As I looked over those changes I was struck by how different our thinking is now, in our late 50s and early 60s, than it was the last time we tackled these issues.
In midlife planning tends to be mainly about making sure your affairs are in order and leaving enough for those left behind. If you have kids, their needs are front and center. Now, as boomers enter into transition, new perspectives and different priorities emerge. Today, it’s more about you, your security, and your legacy.
Here are five things Michael and I noticed as we completed the exercise with our attorney. Perhaps some of them will fit for you.

1. Relationships change. Perhaps you left money to people or gave them responsibilities that no longer make sense. Say your connection with these people isn’t what it used to be. Or maybe they no longer need your help. That is an important reason to change your plans. Do you have the right people in place?

2. Kids grow up. You may find that your old documents are laced with protective measures for children who were still minors. Now that they are young adults, you know a lot about their character. With luck, they are fully launched in their own lives and careers, or close to it. Are those protective devices still required?

3. You know a lot more about your health. For better or worse, as we age our physical future becomes more apparent. In addition, medical science has greatly advanced in its predictive ability. You might have more information than you had 10 years ago to consider the future–and it’s not just death to be thinking about. Have you made provisions for a time when you may not be able to think for yourself?

4. You have more, less or different stuff. Personal property, as attorneys like to call it, tends to accumulate. You might be surprised at the sentimental value your family members place on some of your belongings. It is still true that families go to war just as often about Aunt Millie’s teapot as they do about money. You can avoid that by making some simple decisions and putting them in writing. Decide who gets what.

5. You are thinking about your legacy. The reality is that in order to leave a legacy you need to live it, and that could mean using some of your financial resources now. The older you are the more financially feasible it becomes to give things away during your lifetime, whether it’s to charity or to the people you care about. At 50 you were holding on for dear life to be sure you have plenty for retirement. At 70 those concerns change. Should you consider making some lifetime gifts, rather than waiting until the end?
Even if none of these issues fit your situation, you still may want to change something. Estate planning is a discipline where the state of the art changes constantly. There are new tools and techniques available; you may actually be able to simplify your plan. Our will was several pages shorter this time around–always a good thing in my book.
As stressful as this subject can be, Schervish leaves us with a comforting thought. What he calls the “post-boomers”–ages 28 to 45–are in better shape financially than we might think. Adjusted for inflation they have a greater level of wealth than boomers did at the same age. He also notes that they may be more financially careful since “they envision a longer lifespan and have faced the forces of financial insecurity since the 1999 recession, the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000, and the attacks and aftermath of 2001.”
The bottom line for boomers? Take care of yourself. Think about your legacy. The kids will be all right.

To Launch Your Business – Embrace Risk Taking

By learning what makes veteran entrepreneurs adept risk-takers, aspiring starters-up can get closer to taking the leap

By Monica Mehta

To evaluate the merits of their startup dream and strategize about its future, aspiring entrepreneurs can sweat out business plans and huddle with experts. To prepare for the emotional roller coaster of venturing out on their own, though, there’s little to do in advance. They must launch and learn on the fly. For those struggling to decide when to launch, insight from seasoned risk-takers and researchers who study them could speed the decision-making process.

For Andrew Ullman and Hayward Majors, co-founders of New York’s CollegeSolved.com, an online expert network for college admissions, taking the leap did not come easily. After hatching their idea in 2008, they kept their day jobs in corporate law and finance, conducting research and seeking industry input in their spare time. By February 2009, they had a well-researched business plan but lacked the confidence to pursue the venture full-time. “Despite having an opportunity in hand and some financial stability, it took the validation of creating a beta version of the website and raising capital from outsiders to get us comfortable with the [lifestyle] change,” says Ullman.

Like countless others before them, Ullman and Majors were adept at identifying risks but hadn’t learned to take them. “When it comes to taking risks, knowledge is a highly overrated motivator. Otherwise, we’d all buy low and sell high, and our kids would eat their vegetables,” says Dr. Frank Murtha, a behavioral psychologist in New York City who works with traders and specializes in financial risk-taking. He suggests that seizing opportunities when they arise and rolling with the punches requires a skill set few have mastered.

Chemicals in the Brain

In 2008 researchers at the University of Cambridge studied the risky decision-making abilities of entrepreneurs and corporate managers with similar IQs and experience levels using a battery of neurocognitive tests. They found (paywall alert) that the entrepreneurs consistently took riskier bets. The results show that risk-taking is both behavioral and physiological. The entrepreneurs not only scored higher on personality tests that measure impulsivity and flexibility; they also experienced a chemical response in the reward center of the brain that the managers did not.

While we have little control over our natural programming, it is possible to change behavior over time, as most therapists advocate. To offer aspiring entrepreneurs steps to take immediately, I compiled these tips:

Socialize with other entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship rubs off. A study from Babson suggests that children of entrepreneurs are more likely to start businesses, as are those who know other small business owners. The inverse also holds. Risk aversion can be contagious, as Ullman and Majors experienced. “We always wanted to be entrepreneurs, but we were locked into lucrative jobs that were deemed acceptable by family and friends,” says Majors. Most large cities offer business meet-ups and other networking events where like minds gather.

Set yourself up for small successes. “Our brains are motivated by success to greater success,” says Dr. Richard Peterson, a psychiatrist and PhD of neuroeconomics who has written two books on financial risk-taking. Immediately after experiencing a victory, our neurons process information more effectively, we become sharper and learn faster. Set small goals, no more than three months in length. Even incorporating a hobby that sets you up for small successes can make a difference in your professional life. A personal aside: I’ve just given hubby the license to play World of Warcraft to sharpen his risk-taking prowess.

Have a whiskey sour. Who hasn’t attended a cocktail hour feeling intimidated by a room of unfamiliar faces? A drink can stimulate the impulsive side of your brain’s reward center and give you the courage to strike up a conversation. More isn’t always better when it comes to playing with brain chemistry, of course. For purposes of productive impulsivity, stick to just one.

Or skip the drink and try channeling your inner Richard Branson on your own. We are groomed to seek information when making decisions. Break the habit by practicing by yourself in an environment where your decisions will have few meaningful consequences. Order what instantly comes to mind in a restaurant, for example, then graduate to other arenas.

Have faith. “As much as knowledge is overrated, religion is underrated,” says Murtha. Taking a leap of faith is something every entrepreneur must do at some point or another. Having faith that everything will be O.K., whether it is derived from a spiritual belief or elsewhere, contributes to the willingness to be adaptable.

Choose a partner who possesses skills you don’t. If impulsivity and adaptability aren’t your strong suits, find a partner who already has what you don’t. Of course, don’t bring on a partner unless he or she adds value to the project beyond being able to roll with the punches.

Ullman and Majors quit their day jobs in September 2010 when it became clear investors were willing to commit. They closed the round in December, raising enough from friends and family to sustain the business for about two years, and finally launched CollegeSolved.com in early April. “After more than two years of planning, we thought we’d experience a huge relief post-launch,” says Majors. “But the party is only getting started.”

[Monica Mehta is managing principal of investment firm Seventh Capital in New York City. She has advised hundreds of small businesses over the past 15 years. .]

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Effective Planning Is About What to Leave Out

posted by: John Jantsch

Today my staff and I are taking the entire day to create a strategic plan for the coming year. The process, and its ongoing nature, is something I call Commitment Planning. This is a practice that I highly recommend, but perhaps not for the reason you may assume.

But first, the rules

  • No one has a specific role today
  • Let brainstorming be brainstorming – possibilities and ideas
  • Be present
  • Be judgmental tomorrow
  • Remember, you are planning for the entire year

And, then my requirements

  • Food and drink should be awesome
  • Leave lots of time and space for physical movement
  • Make it easy to capture everything

Lots of companies completely neglect the need for planning and some that do it consistently view it as a way to determine new things they want to address in the year ahead.

To me, the greatest benefit of any planning session is to decide what not to do.

There’s always more to do than you can possibly get done and what happens all too often is that we give a little attention to a lot of things and effectively water down what should be our priorities.

When we plan the right way, we look long and hard at what makes us money and (hopefully) find ways to focus on doing more of that better, rather than thinking up more of something to divert our attention.

I recently hired my own business coach and one of the first things we’re focused on is getting me to stop doing things that don’t make sense and start spending more concentrated time on my highest payoff activities.

This idea holds true for entire organizations as well and one of the best ways to get to the heart of what’s holding you back is planning.

The first planning principle you must embrace however, is that the goal of the process is to help you limit what you are going to do and do well. Instead of creating a laundry list of wants and dreams, your charge in the planning process is to create a very small list of objectives and goals grounded in the overriding purpose of the business. Everyone in the organization then must commit to this list. From your small list you can carve out a requisite number of strategies and tactics that support these business objectives.

In fact, your aim is to create a total plan outline that fills no more than one sheet of paper. (No 6pt type allowed.)

Note also that we’re not spending the day to make a business plan or create a marketing plan – plans aren’t the secret, planning is. It’s the continuous process of planning, acting, measuring and planning that moves the organization in the direction of its goals.

Using and teaching a continuous planning process like this is one of the ways you empower your staff to know they are taking right action on the most important things at all times and knowing this brings a confidence that in itself is a commitment generator.

Commitment planning is a management style that frees your people to be creative instead of forcing them to be bound by a process only system driven activity.

Planning is not a one-day event or even year-end activity. Sure, there may be certain time bound planning periods that occur naturally, say at the end of a quarter, but the real way to keep commitment alive is to live it through a creative process that allows everyone to focus on the things that matter most.

Ben McConnell, coauthor of the Church of the Customer Blog and principal of management consulting firm Ant’s Eye View, has written about a planning process he calls OGST (Objectives, Goals, Strategies and Tactics.)

What I love about McConnell’s framework is that he uses each of these planning words in ways so simple as to actually create a useful set of definitions for these ridiculously misused terms.

Go get this visual representation of OGST and I think you’ll see what I mean.

As you can see, a planning process like this can help the kind of simple clarity that is so often missing in the “what should we do next” business management style. We borrow heavily from McConnell’s framework add some of our own magic to help put the focus on results and bust through constraints.

No matter what exact process you use for planning, with a one page plan full of your committed priorities in hand you can analyze any idea in about two seconds and determine if you should pursue it or dismiss it. Focusing on your strengths and finding ways to turn them into even greater assets is how individuals and organizations realize their potential.

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What if your business partner wants to break up?

By Jeff Haden

Setting up a business partnership is a little like starting a romantic relationship, although admittedly the benefits package and perks are a lot different.

In the beginning stages it’s easy to only focus on the positives, but a solid partnership agreement also takes into account a number of scenarios, especially the potential for negative outcomes. If the worst does happen, your partnership agreement should protect both you and your partner.

Make sure your partnership agreement covers what will happen if:

One of you wants out. Exit clauses are standard in partnership agreements. For example, if you want out, your partner may be obligated to purchase your ownership share.

That’s the easy part. The tricky part is determining the value of the business when that happens. Business valuation is part science, part art, and different approaches often result in very different results. Whether you agree to use liquidation value, book value, or the income, asset, or market approaches, stipulate in your partnership agreement how the business will be valued and whether a third party will conduct the valuation. Then the breakup will be a lot cleaner and less emotional.

One of you passes away. Say your partner dies. Typically his or her ownership stake passes to the spouse or children. You automatically get new partners — new partners you may not want. A buy-sell agreement can allow you to purchase your deceased partner’s share, but what if you don’t have the money or can’t get financing?

There’s an easy solution: Stipulate that each partner will carry life insurance sufficient to cover the purchase of the other partner’s share. Each partner designates the other partner as beneficiary. Then, if your partner passes away, you always have the funds to complete the buy-sell agreement. Just make sure you add additional coverage as the value of your business grows.

One of you wants to change the agreement. Paul Allen claimed Bill Gates asked him to change their ownership split of Microsoft several times. Perspectives change as a business evolves, and partnership agreements can be amended as often as you like — as long as all partners agree.

Sometimes one of you might not agree to proposed changes, so stipulate how fundamental disagreements will be resolved: Mediation, arbitration, triggering a buy-sell clause, etc. Knowing how a problem will eventually be resolved if you aren’t able to agree often makes it easier to work through differences.

You can no longer get along. No matter how well you work together now, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and changing priorities can damage the best relationships. When that happens, falling back on the terms of your partnership agreement can help both of you stay objective.

For example, your partnership agreement may stipulate you are responsible for 60% of the work since your partner provided a greater share of initial capital. If he feels you aren’t doing your share, the more clearly you defined what “the work” means in your agreement, the easier it is to determine whether you are in fact pulling your weight. Whenever possible, use hours, numbers, dollars — quantifiable measurements.

Your business is already established. If the agreement you have is insufficient — or if you don’t have a written agreement — it’s not too late.

Take a step back and create a comprehensive partnership agreement. If your partner hesitates, explain you aren’t trying to change your current working conditions. All you’re trying to do is eliminate as many ways you might disagree in the future as possible.

Fortunately, talking about potential negatives with a potential business partner is a lot easier than having a similar discussion with a romantic partner. Setting up a prenuptial agreement may not be the greatest way to start a relationship, but setting up a comprehensive written partnership agreement is the perfect way to start a business partnership.