Ep. 239 – Anne Rhodes – Estate Planning in Retirement – Simplified
In this Episode of the Secure Your Retirement Podcast, Radon and Murs have Anne Rhodes discuss how the wealth.com platform simplifies estate planning. Anne is the Chief Legal Officer at wealth.com with a mission to make estate planning and cross-generational wealth transfer affordable and accessible to more Americans.
She describes the two buckets where the core documents every American must have fall and their importance in estate planning.
Listen in to learn about the importance of documents like the HIPAA form, certification of trust, and why you should consider a trust versus a will. You will also learn how wealth.com is set up to reduce estate planning friction and simplify estate planning for financial advisors and their clients.
In this episode, find out:
- The core documents every American needs to have in case of death or incapacitation and their importance.
- The HIPAA form – What does it allow you to do?
- The certification of trust – accompanies a living trust as a cover sheet, so you don’t have to reveal your trust’s private information.
- Reasons to consider having a trust versus a will, like privacy and reducing the cost and time of probate.
- Anne explains the process from signing the documents to making them legal.
- “The HIPAA release form is important to accompany the advanced healthcare directive.”– Anne Rhodes
- “We really want to give financial advisors and their clients a tool that they can trust to go deeply into this estate planning world.”– Anne Rhodes
Get in Touch with Anne:
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Here’s the full transcript:
|Welcome to Secure Your Retirement podcast. We are certainly happy to have you here with us today. Today, we’re going to be talking about a topic that we have discussions with all the time with our prospective clients and our clients, and that’s around estate planning and the easy way to do that or some ways to do that. Today we have a special guest with us, Anne Rhoads, with wealth.com. We’ll explain a little bit more about that. But first of all, Anne, thank you so much for coming on and having a good conversation with us.
|Of course. Thank you so much for having me. I’m just excited to be talking about estate planning with you today.
|Yeah, excellent. Could you just for our listeners, give us a little bit of who you are, your background, what’s your connection to estate planning and give us a little bit of understanding on that?
|Sure, absolutely. Before I joined wealth.com where I am chief legal officer, I was an estate planner. I worked in private practice in New York City at McDermott, Will, and Emory. It is the only band one ranked law firm in this space by chambers. I worked on highly complex wealth transfer strategies, a lot of cross-border planning as well. Then in 2019 my family situation changed. My husband got a job out here in San Francisco where I’m dialing in from today and I joined Perkins Coie, which is a Seattle based law firm. They have big West Coast based clientele. Yeah, worked on a lot of families that were building first generation wealth and might face a big liquidity event at some point.
|Very good. Thanks for giving us some of that background, Anne. Today, we try to keep our episodes somewhere in the realm of 15 to 20 minutes. Nice and easy to listen to on your commute to work or something like that. But we’ve got some great topics we want to go through and let’s just dive into the first one. My question to you is we talk about all these documents that you have to have and it doesn’t matter asset size, doesn’t matter situation, most people need these core documents and a lot of times we talk about a will and then some documents that go along with those. Can you speak to what those are and the importance behind each one of those?
|Yeah, absolutely. When I think about estate planning, I think about it in terms of two large buckets and that’s where the documents come in. The first one is passing away, death. People need a plan for who is going to be stepping into your shoes and helping you distribute your assets. Then the other question is to whom, what are these assets and where are they going? Then the second category, second bucket, is incapacity. These days, especially with medical technology being the way that it is, it can be a little bit of a question as to when you are incapacitated but still needing somebody to help you take care of yourself but also your loved ones. The documents are in a standard estate package, which every single American should have as you hinted, there should be a will. The will actually is even relevant if you have a living trust or a revocable trust.
|These two documents, in my mind, I lump them together. Those are your death/post death planning and they’re the main vehicle in your estate plan. Do you have a will or do you have a living trust? But even if you have that living trust, you still need a pour over will. It just becomes a shorter document that takes all of your assets that are still in your name and that you didn’t put into your trust and then pours them into, it’s like coffee, pours them into your trust and that’s where your trust will take over. Then you have another whole set of documents that have to be done within incapacity. Think financial power of attorney, that’s really for somebody to have signature authority like everywhere where you would normally sign a piece of paper for financial purposes, financial matters, that’s where that document comes in.
|Then the other document in there is an advanced healthcare directive. Those healthcare documents which are about who takes care of you and what happens to you after you pass away, like organ donation, those have different names in all of the different states. I call it an advanced healthcare directive because out here in California, but if you were somewhere else, it might be called a healthcare proxy or power of attorney over healthcare matters. Those are all the same document.
|Excellent. Now I know in some of the packages that we have put together, there was also HIPAA forms. Could you explain why a person would need a HIPAA form, especially if it’s a husband, wife or a married couple or with children? Could you just explain the purposes of that?
|Sure, absolutely. Under each of these documents that I just described, they’re actually what I refer to as ancillary documents. They’re just documents that help that document function even better. I’ll give you some sense of that. But the HIPAA is a great example for the advanced healthcare directive or the healthcare proxy because there are federal and actually state level laws about medical privacy. That’s what HIPAA is and what it allows the hospital to do if you sign it, is to give your agent the power to access those records, right? Because otherwise actually there are laws to protect against that. If you’re a healthcare provider or your doctor is not able to even have that conversation with the agent, then the agent is not making a good decision on your behalf. That HIPAA release form is really important to accompany the advanced healthcare directive.
|There are a few other forms like that. Actually, for your listeners, you might be interested in something called a certification of trust. If you don’t mind, I’ll just quickly go over that. Don’t know if you’ve seen that before or if a bank has asked your client to fill out a certification or certificate of trust, what that is it accompanies a living trust or a revocable trust. When you want to put an asset like your bank account is in your name today, Radon, and now you want to put it in your trust because you have a trust. You might go to your bank and your bank is like, “Well, how do I know that your trust exists?” That certification of trust is like a cover sheet for your trust, so you don’t have to reveal all 30 pages of that document with all the private information about your family.
|But instead it’s just a cover sheet that says, “Yep, it’s just these two pages where I tell you my trust exists. I’m the trustee. This is totally legit.” That’s what a certification of trust is and it should come with your trust, as well.
|Yeah, that’s a good point. It streamlines the process, too, for account openings and changes that you don’t have to give them the big 30-page document or reveal some of the private information that you may have in there, so that’s good. While we’re on the topic of trusts, one of the main questions that we get is, “I read this and this online,” or “I Googled this and this about trusts.” How do you help someone understand and think through, “Am I good enough with just the will and the beneficiary designations on my accounts, or do I need to start thinking about a trust and what can a trust do for me?”
|Right. This is one of my favorite topics. I feel like there’s so much misinformation about trusts out there and what kind of trusts we’re talking about. Because as you probably heard, even from what I just said, they’re like little words you add in front of trust and it could mean something completely different. Here we’re really talking about the living trust or the revocable trust that is the most common form of trust because it’s a substitute for will. There are all sorts of other trusts out there, in fact a real alphabet soup, GRATs, CRUTs, ILITs, whatever. That is about wealth transfer planning, maybe there are some estate tax issues that come into play. We’re not talking about those trusts, we’re talking about something that is really just, do you want a will or do you want a trust? Why would you want a trust versus a will?
|Let’s dig a little bit deeply into that. The first things to know is wills mean that your estate, so all the assets that you own at your death, will go through a process called probate. This is pretty unique to the United States and a couple of these English countries out there, English-speaking countries, but that is a court process where a judge is overseeing and signing off on decisions that your executor or your personal representative will make. That can take a while, and especially in different states out here in California or in Florida, the court systems, they’re handling a lot of cases, so you have to queue up behind a lot of other people. In these types of states, your state alone means that you should have a trust. Think California, think Florida, in those states, if you live there or your client lives there, start steering them towards a trust if you can.
|Then the thing to understand about probate is that there’s a court docket and courts are public forums. If you think about Sam Bankman-Fried, whose life story has just been published on the internet, it’s because he went through this criminal court system. Courts make things public. People who don’t want their wills and where their stuff goes and who they’ve disinherited through their documents to be known to the public should think long and hard about a trust. Trust is about privacy as well as reducing the cost and the time of probate.
|Then there are various other little reasons to have trust. For example, if you have a client who owns real estate and estate other than where they live. Think okay, they’re going to have to open probate and let’s say they live in Florida, but they also own a vacation home somewhere else, let’s say Louisiana, then all of a sudden they’re going to have to open multiple probates. Well, in that case, you should have a trust and just put that real property into your trust and hopefully avoid a lot of different little probates all over the country. Those are reasons why your client or you might want to consider having a trust versus a will.
|Yeah. Okay. One of the things that we wanted to talk about, too, because this… If I go back, I’ve been doing this for 22 years, and what we would have occur is that we would have a client come in and we would say, “Hey, you need to get these documents.” They would say, “Well then do you have any recommendations?” We would hand them a couple of different business cards from a couple of different attorneys and we would say, “Get in touch with one of these attorneys, set up an appointment, go see them.” From what I found, the way that typically works is you go in either maybe now on Zoom or in a meeting, you have a conversation, they’re then going to prep documents, then you’re going to go back and review the documents and then tweak it. It becomes this process that we find could take a month or two at least just to get all that done.
|Obviously, there can be some expense there. What we would have is a lot of folks would come back to us and we would be doing their annual review again and we’ll say, “Hey, did you get your estate plan set up?” They’d go, “No, I didn’t get a chance to do that.” We were looking for an alternative. In the last few years, what we’ve been trying to do is make that streamline. What we decided to do is we actually ended up partnering with wealth.com. Now, the difference here is that wealth.com obviously is an online platform versus going and seeing an attorney. I would like for you to speak a little bit from your side as to maybe the things that maybe is it not as good as going and seeing an attorney one-on-one? Are there things that I need to be aware of, because listen, this comes up sometimes, I think questions people have, it might feel to some degree, a little bit more legitimate, me sitting in front of an attorney versus doing this online.
|For sure. Well, here’s what I can say to you. The first thing to know about wealth.com, and thank you for giving me a platform to talk about my baby for these past few years, is that it’s a digital first platform. The idea here is that a financial advisor or maybe an employer, somebody has a connection to wealth and gives access to the client who needs the estate plan done. We are B2B2C, and so there’s always a little bit of a mediation there or a relationship with wealth before your client can even come onto the platform. Then it’s about that client. You traditionally refer them to estate planners, and as you described, that can be a very friction filled experience. I’m shocked by the way that it takes just one or two months because in my experience when I was in private practice and we charged $9,000 as the starting quote for a couple in California, we would send that PDF questionnaire to the client, be like, “Oh, nice to meet you. I need to know a little bit more about you. Here’s this 10 page PDF. Good luck.”
|Actually, we wanted them to have homework to do to line them up and see who was really motivated to come back. Estate planners, there are fewer really good estate planners out there, and so the really good ones are really overworked and have these really heavy workloads. Yes, your client may be waiting for months before they can get in front of that estate planner again. Anyways, so we at wealth.com really wanted to reduce the friction. There are some, most people in the United States to be honest, may be able to use these really powerful tools that we’ve put in their hands and really excellent quality forms and be able to get through the whole process by themselves instead of having to fill out a PDF where that information you put in about your brother, who you trust to be your executor, is just going to be copied and pasted into somebody’s Word doc. Why don’t you do that, right?
|You have the power, your contact information for your brother. It’s reducing that friction and also reducing the need to always go back to an estate planner. For us at Wealth, I can tell you our forms at this point have been reviewed by 70 plus attorneys throughout the United States. It’s not just the attorneys who work with us, are in our network. By the way, I have to give a shutout to Brady Boyette in North Carolina. They are our preferred partner and they have been fantastic to us. But any event, we partner with local counsel who review our forms, give us feedback, tell us about changes in law in their states. We also have our customers who have in-house trust and estates attorneys who’ve had to, as part of their diligence process, review our forms.
|I can tell you these forms are better than 99% of what’s out there. I’m really, really proud of the forms we’ve put together. But it’s also, yes, there are swim lanes and I want to be very honest about that because any digital estate planning tool that tells you that they can serve every American is going to be wrong. There is a place, absolutely, for an estate planner in this process if you come upon one of these family situations. I’ll give you an example for us. Currently, at Wealth, we do not serve families that have special needs children very well, and I’m just going to be very honest with you. Every state has slightly different laws. We are currently undergoing a survey to see what each state does, but there are government benefits to be aware of for each particular state plus the federal level ones.
|Right now, if you go through our platform, we actually ask you proactively do you have a special needs circumstance? If you click that, we will tell you, “Please go and find an estate planner.” But if your family, by and large, you can do some really complex planning on the wealth platform, and actually we don’t consider ourselves to have a net worth ceiling, meaning that if you have a federally taxable estate of 26 million or above, you can actually still use wealth.com to set up all of the trust structures that you’ll need to give your family an opportunity to do tax planning at your death. Knowing the limits of the platform is very important when you do something like that. But to be honest, our users, it takes them 36 minutes to do a trust on our platform. Think about how much power you’ve put into your client’s hands.
|Yeah, I think, so one of the things that we have seen along with that story of us telling clients to “To see this attorney, we’ve got a great relationship with this attorney and this attorney. We’ve vetted them, go see them.” One of the barriers there is just procrastination in general. “Yeah, I’ll take your card, I’ll give them a call,” but they never give them a call. They never set that appointment, and we see them a year later and they never got to it, so wealth.com and other platforms like that take away that barrier to a degree of, “Hey, you can just sit down and knock it out in 36 minutes,” like you said. But what about the person that, it’s not a complex case, but maybe they need a little bit of advice, maybe they need a little bit of handholding throughout the process, or I’ve got this tiny question or this, how does Wealth handle that?
|Yeah, so I will say, I’m glad you asked this question because it is important to have, for us, a very strong and vetted attorney network because folks who are going through the digital estate planning process may have one-off questions that are very particular to them, and we don’t give legal advice and neither should your financial advisors. The people who can still apply the law to a specific person’s situation, for example like, “I’m really wondering between my family members who I should pick as an executor, really got to work that out because I have four children and I don’t want to insult any of them, but I really just want one, et cetera.” That kind of question is a legal question and should be addressed by a lawyer. In that case, we make available our attorney network, the folks who have helped us strengthen our own platform, we make them available to you.
|The other reason why we think it’s important to make available attorneys is because people don’t always have questions just about estate planning. Sometimes it’s because they’re a beneficiary of their parents’ estate. When we think about the great wealth transfer that’s happening right now, your clients may also be beneficiaries or heirs from somebody else’s estate. They may have questions about that. That’s part of the reason why we make our attorney network available. It’s because we trust these people and we think that we’ve reduced the barrier for you guys to go and source attorneys in 50 states plus D.C.
|Excellent. We have just wanted to explain one more thing then, for everybody who’s listening through this and because we want to be clear, this wealth.com is not an end user platform. It’s really a platform with a partner, and then we are able to then have our clients go through that connection. Just so you understand that if you’re trying to type in wealth.com as you listen to this, it’s not really a way you’re going to be able to go get an estate plan. You could come through somebody who has a relationship with wealth.com. I will tell you that I have found, and we’ve gotten the feedback that it is super easy. It’s an easy platform to walk through.
|One last question, and this is just one is I want to hear your response to, how would you describe the difference of wealth.com to say some of the other platforms that are out there that are legal, but it’s across the board. You could go there and you could say, “Well, I want to set up an LLC, I want to do an estate plan, I want to do this or that.” How would you describe the difference in a vast platform versus one that’s very, very designed for estate planning?
|Yeah, so I can tell you that estate planning is where we focus our efforts, and there’s a reason for that, which is, remember again, I said there’s no net worth ceiling to our platform where our legal team has the tax expertise to be able to do some very complex work. For example, if you came to wealth.com and you wanted to set up what’s called dynasty trusts, so trusts for your descendants that last, as long as the state law allows it to last, you can do that at wealth.com. We set up these types of trusts in your will or in your subtrusts. That’s really important to know and so will we someday maybe do LLCs? Sure, maybe, right? But that’s not really where we’re focused because we really want to give financial advisors and their clients a tool that they can trust to go deeply into this estate planning world. That, to us, is very important.
|A lot of our competitors also, to be honest, have that D2C. They are a direct consumer, and there’s something about partnering through a financial advisor that we find really rewarding, which is, Murs, to your point. You have clients who go off, you give them that business card and they don’t get it done. But you guys, as financial advisors through the wealth.com platform, have your own login to administer access to your clients, but also to keep tabs on them. We think that’s really important. You guys have the ability to finger wag digitally now and say, “Hey, get it done so this is not a big rush when you go on your next big vacation with your family.” That’s part of the reason we sow treasure the relationships through another business, another firm, and we’re just really happy to have our financial advisor partners who make this a stronger experience for the end user.
|One last question, I think then we’ll wrap it up. Say the person goes through the whole platform or the whole process of drawing up their trust, their will, all those auxiliary documents as well, what happens at the end to where it becomes legal, what all needs to be done?
|Yes. Our platform right now delivers to you within that 36 minutes on average legal drafts, so print them at home. If your client feels comfortable doing that, or as a financial advisor, you can help them print, then they need to be signed in front of witnesses if it’s a will specifically and notarized. Different states have different state requirements. We make the signing instructions really clear to you, what you’ll need for that particular state. Yeah, so have that signing ceremony, and then you have legal documents in your hands. To be honest, it can be done over the course of just one day. Draft your documents, go to UPS to get the documents notarized and UPS will have a couple of people on site who can be your witnesses, and boom, you’re done.
|Yeah. Excellent. Well, hey, thank you so much, Anne, for coming on. You have really given us a really clear, easy, simple path here for folks to understand what they can do, and we appreciate you taking time out of your day to come on and chat with us.
|Thank you so much for having me.