MarbleWorks® and Your Estate

MarbleWorks® is a construction toy where a variable structure of chutes and curly-qs is built in a tower-like structure, and then a handful of marbles is poured through.

The marbles tumble along the player-built paths, arriving at any number of receptacles at the bottom. Some marbles may quickly reach the bottom, while others get delayed in the twists and turns. The fun is seeing how many different variations of the structure can be built, and how differently each handful of marbles dumped into the top behaves.

Your estate plan is somewhat like a MarbleWorks game. Wills, trusts, and account designations are the structure, and your assets are the marbles traveling through to their ultimate beneficiaries. But that’s where the analogy ends, for unlike MarbleWorks, your estate plan ideally leaves a known amount of assets with the heirs and organizations you specify. How successfully that is achieved is determined by how closely your estate plan accomplishes your desires.

MCS Financial Advisors’ “Pouring Assets Through Your Estate Plan” works much like a MarbleWorks game, in that we trace the movement of your assets and their value through your estate plan, plot the outcome, determine the extent to which your intentions are achieved, and suggest changes to discuss with your estate planning attorney.  

To better understand your intentions, we start with a conversation, followed by an estate plan review, looking at such elements as will provisions, trust provisions, and account designations.

We then gather information on all your assets and determine for each one:

  • Current value and expected change in value over time;
  •  Whether its value can be readily determined (stocks, bonds, cash, common real estate) or not (business interests, personal property, antiques, unusual real estate);
  • How it is owned – individually, jointly, by trust, etc;
  • Whether its distribution is controlled from within the will, by beneficiary designation, or by ownership designation; and
  • Its liquidity – whether it can easily be sold, divided, or invested for income (investment portfolios holding cash, stocks, and bonds), or not (real estate, business interests, personal property, antiques).

With this information, we trace each asset’s movement through your estate plan, determine where it will land, and calculate the total value received by each beneficiary named in your estate plan and when received (including whether or not estate taxes may be due, and how much).

Finally, we compare your estate plan’s outcome with your intentions. Oftentimes we find that too many marbles gather in one place (like the pile marked “IRS”), or that the paths go off in entirely unexpected directions. When this happens, we identify changes to discuss with your estate attorney.
Some of changes we have proposed have improved our clients’ estate plans by:

  • Preventing life insurance proceeds going to an ex-spouse;
  • Making retirement account beneficiary distributions comparable to a will’s provisions;
  • Allowing an estate to avoid probate by re-titling assets to an existing living trust;
  • Avoiding confusion over distribution of assets by harmonizing provisions in a living trust and a will that guide asset distribution; and
  • Preventing potential future diversion of assets from intended beneficiaries through establishment of a first-to-die trust.

As you think of your own estate planning, it may be useful to consider these questions:

  • Are you confident that your estate plan will accomplish your goals (if you pour your marbles into the top, will they come out where you expect them to)?
  • Does it accurately reflect your current financial situation?
  • Are those you wish to benefit upon your death the same as they were when you drafted your estate plan (have there been any births, deaths, marriages or divorces)?

If the answers are uncertain, or you would like to follow up with our “pouring assets through your estate plan” process, please contact us! The time and cost is a small investment when compared with the total value of your estate.