Should You Create an Estate Plan?

The reasons for needing an estate plan are as varied as the individuals involved and, it seems, the many myths surrounding the subject do quite a bit of harm. For example, do you have to be “rich” in order to need an estate plan? The answer is, “No”, one does not need to be rich to need an estate plan. All you need is the desire to pass on to your heirs the greatest amount of the wealth possible that you have preserved during your lifetime.

Among the major benefits of a well-drafted estate plan are minimizing the expense of passing your estate to beneficiaries, decreasing the administrative complexities and ensuring to the extent possible that your distribution wishes are followed.

For example, if you own a home, have minor children or grandchildren, grown children in their own marriages, have been divorced, own a business, or expect to receive an inheritance of your own, you need to seriously consider the benefits of properly planning your estate. Instead of passing problems on to your heirs, you can instead elect to pass on the greatest amount of wealth with the least amount of problems through estate planning.

The largest hurdle, oftentimes, is building a lasting relationship with an attorney who specializes in estate planning. Going through the Yellow Pages, or asking friends for referrals or using the internet is often a haphazard process without much guarantee of success.

Compelling Reasons to Build an Estate Plan

Among the common motivations that compel creation of an estate plan are the following. The more the following reasons apply to any situation, the greater is the need to complete estate planning to not only build and protect your hard-earned wealth but, also, to transfer your wealth with as little depletion and expense as possible. With a proper estate plan in place, you can plan ahead to:

1. Designating who will manage your affairs if you become disabled and when you pass away. If you fail to do so, a court will decide for you not only who receives your wealth but who will make the distributions. You never know who the court will appoint. Keep control of your own destiny!

2. Planning for Medicaid and its impact on your estate if you must go into a nursing home. Nursing homes today can cost as much as $75,000 per year, or more, and a longterm stay can easily impoverish all but the wealthiest families. With proper planning, however, you can shelter assets and keep your family’s wealth intact. Because there is a 50-50 chance that the average adult will spend at least one year in a longterm care facility, it becomes painfully clear this type of planning is extremely important.

3. Avoiding probate, during your lifetime and when you pass away. Do you want the court controlling you or your assets? Probate proceedings are public, expensive, and time-consuming and should be avoided whenever possible. Leave your money to your heirs quickly, privately and efficiently by establishing a proper estate plan.

4. Protecting children from a prior marriage if you pass away first. Second marriage planning can be complex and tricky. Expert legal guidance is needed to ensure your assets are preserved and your children of your first marriage will receive the proper share of their inheritance.

5. Protecting assets inherited by your heirs from lawsuits, divorces and other claims. Make sure your assets are inherited by your loved ones, not the people you don’t want to receive them, such as their ex-spouses, in-laws, creditors or the IRS.

6. Imposing discipline upon children or grandchildren who may not be capable or experienced in managing wealth. Make sure your children or grandchildren spend their inheritance wisely and protect their inheritance against inexperience and mismanagement by including specific conditions and rewards in your estate plan.

7. Providing for special needs children and grandchildren. The loss of governmental benefits can wipe out your estate. Special considerations and planning is needed to avoid the loss of governmental benefits.

8. Insuring that a specific portion of your estate actually gets to grandchildren, charities, etc. Without planning, a judge will decide who inherits your assets. Pre-planning your estate ensures your intentions and directions are followed.

9. Protecting a portion of your estate if you pass away first and your surviving spouse remarries. Special Trusts, commonly referred to as “A-B trusts”, can be crafted to protect your current surviving spouse and to insure that your assets don’t end up in the wrong hands. Take action now to protect your family.

10. Addressing different needs of different children. No two children are alike. Customized estate planning can assure that each child’s personal needs are addressed in the manner you deem best.

11. Preventing or discouraging challenges to your estate plan. Establishing a well-drafted and comprehensive Revocable Living Trust now makes it more difficult for objections when you are no longer around to speak for yourself.

12. Encouraging and rewarding your heirs who make smart life decisions and preventing the depletion of your estate from those who do not. There can be a point at which giving a child more money can make them less productive and less happy. A Family Incentive Trust can be tailored with financial incentives which encompass your family values and goals to encourage and motivate your children. Such a Trust can be a loving way to support your children while inspiring them to be productive members of society and fostering their sense of self-worth.

13. Assuring an education for children, or grandchildren, despite what they (or their parents) dream of doing with the inheritance. Establishing an educational trust can assure that your children or grandchildren use their inheritance for education and not fund a vacation in Las Vegas.

14. Plan for a “Brady Bunch” family estate plan and assure that a stepparent doesn’t spend your children’s inheritance and/or provide for a spouse without sacrificing the intended legacy for children of a prior marriage. A divorce and subsequent marriage can have devastating effects on the inheritance you intend for your children if your estate plan is not reviewed and updated. Often times, the original “traditional” estate plan will not meet the needs or provide the protection needed for your new blended family so proper planning is imperative.

15. Pursuing charitable goals you may not otherwise feel you can afford. Considerably cutting probate expenses allows you to also leave a legacy to a charitable organization you admire.

If your wealth or disposition desires fall into any one of the above groups, you should contact an estate planning attorney in your area. Many times, waiting to make a decision about distributing your wealth or deciding who can make decisions for you in case of death or incapacity will result in your dreams for your children and grandchildren, or your favorite charity, never, ever, being realized. Thus, tarrying in creating an estate plan can cause extreme confusion, turmoil and expense for your heirs that can easily be avoided by contacting a highly qualified, trained and tested estate planning specialist in your locale.

Investment Real Estate Marketing Plan – Putting Details Into Action

Marketing is one of the most important things a real estate investor can do to grow his business. It is also one of the areas that is easiest to make multiple mistakes. From failing to properly plan, failure to track your results and even worse, failure to control spending; marketing is fraught perils that beginning investors and long time investors alike must be aware and prepared to avoid.

There are 3 main areas of marketing to concentrate on when seeking to grow sales and revenues. The first is education, the second is planning and the third is tracking for adjustments and success. All three are important for investors to watch as they seek to grow sales and revenues and more importantly, build a business model that is sustainable through any real estate cycle.

EDUCATION

Educating yourself as a real estate investor and marketer is absolutely paramount if you are going to have success and grow your business. There is simply no excuse for not understanding the basics of each as they both are extremely important for the longevity and ability to stay relevant and profitable. Here a few examples of places to become educated on good marketing techniques for real estate investors.

1. Local Library – There may not be a better place to become educated on real estate marketing than the local library. Break the topic down into two subjects and you can have the basics down inside of a week. Under the real estate section there are multiple titles that explain the basics of real estate investing from beginner levels to expert levels. In addition, many of these books will give a basic outline of some simple marketing techniques and tools to get you started. When you combine that knowledge with a good Marketing 101 book from the library, you can quickly pick up the basic outline of why marketing must be done and how properly set up a marketing plan. The best part about an education from the library is the cost – practically free!

2. Real Estate Investment Clubs – Often times, these clubs are referred to in the industry as REIA’s. Associations of local real estate investors who come together several times a month to discuss topics relevant to real estate investing. These are great sources for so many things related to real estate investing, including marketing ideas and plans. By attending and immersing yourself into these groups, it is easy to develop friendships, partnerships and even mentors who can answer questions and provide guidance. By paying attention to what the top performers are doing in the field and how they are marketing their businesses, you can pick up ideas and integrate those ideas into your marketing plan. It is called modeling and it is one of the best ways to educate yourself on what is working in a particular real estate market. The biggest upside to becoming educated at a REIA is that you are surrounding yourself with the type of people that are going to be vital to your future success. The costs are usually very affordable and you can often avoid mistakes made by other investors before you.

3. Go it Alone – There probably does not need to be a tremendous amount of discussion under this heading. It speaks for itself and generally goes against all advice I could ever give any business person, especially a real estate investor. As far as education is concerned, it is an approach that many investors choose to take and often at a tremendous cost. Going it alone means deciding to jump into the deep end of the pool with both feet and learning as you go. Trial and error can be good and can sometimes lead to good results, but often after many hours and many ups and downs. Strictly looking at costs, many investors have experienced huge losses in the areas of marketing to learn what works in their particular market and often are a little behind the actual trends due to not properly learning to track and adjust.

My suggestion when it comes to education to use all the resources available including those that come with little to no costs. When you are becoming educated on how to set up a proper marketing plan complete with tracking and adjusting, then I would make sure I was a part of a local real estate investors association so that I am always up to date with the latest marketing techniques.

PLANNING

When I talk about planning and marketing, I mean to process of laying out the actual strategies you are going to use to market your business, the time frame you are going to use those strategies, the way you are going to track those results and the possible adjustments you are going to make as your results come in on your plan. One of the biggest mistakes that we see today in the real estate marketing world is not a complete failure to plan, but a failure to lay the full plan out from beginning to end. That being said, here are a few tips to properly develop a plan.

1. Know what you are currently doing and what results you are currently achieving. Even if the answer is that you are doing nothing, you can not work on where you are going if you do not know where you currently are starting from. You should be able to pinpoint today any marketing you are doing and the cost of that marketing as well as any results you are seeing.

2. Know what results you are looking for before you begin. So once you know where you are starting from, the next question is were are you going? Lay out concrete results you want to achieve and be specific. One of the glaring mistakes in this area is not being specific enough. You cannot track abstract goals. Your goals must be specific and detailed so that you can verify if you are achieving them. An example would be a specific number of new leads you want to bring in from each marketing source.

3. Give yourself set time frames to test your marketing. This is definitely the second biggest problem for real estate marketers and most marketers in general. Marketing plans must be given time to take shape and develop. Most real estate marketers are developing marketing plans which are call to action in nature. They are asking their target audience to take a particular action so that they can capture that action and develop a new lead. An example would be to “Call Today to Sell Your House Quick!”. This is a call to action marketing phrase. Often times, there will need to be multiple impressions of that message before the action is followed. Failing to plan a specific amount of time such as 60 days or 90 days, leads to a marketer stopping his action before his target audience responds. If you allow your plan to last longer and stick with all of your marketing pieces and techniques longer, you give yourself a greater chance for success in the long run. It allows for you to see over a longer period of time the results you are getting and that provides a clearer picture of what works and what does not work. DO NOT quit marketing after a couple of weeks simply because your phone is not ringing off the hook. Set your time period on the front end and then let your marketing plan work.

4. Failing to get input from other experts can be costly. If you have access to other real estate investors, I would definitely get their input on your marketing plan before implementation. If they are able to give you advice and direction it can often times help you to figure out the best route to take or at least if you are on track for success. If you have taken your time and all the steps necessary so far to put together a quality plan, then take advice from other experts, but do not be persuaded to change everything. Simply let others take a quick look for feedback, but be prepared to move forward with your plan and any adjustments they think would make a difference.

TRACKING

Tracking means having a way to actually follow and measure all of the marketing activities you are doing and the number of results each gets you. Here are some examples of the things that real estate marketers need to track for every marketing action they take.

1. What are the total number of leads generated per marketing technique tracked daily, weekly and monthly.
2. How many of those leads turned into qualified prospects daily, weekly and monthly. (qualified prospect means you were willing to invest more time to develop the lead)
3. The number of offers made to purchase property daily, weekly and monthly.
4. The ratios of offers made to where the original lead came from.

I am going to insert a quick note here to make sure everyone understands exactly how to track. It is not enough to simply know how many calls you are getting or how many leads are generated or how many offers or deals are being done. When you actually purchase an investment property, you MUST know where that lead came from at the very beginning. Tracking ratios is extremely important to this. It is important to be able to track and measure not only the leads but the quality of those leads. You can have one lead generator that gives you a majority of your leads and another that gives you a majority of your transactions. It should be obvious that you would want to spend more time and resources with the marketing technique giving your more transactions unless you are in the business to simply feel busy and not necessarily to earn a living!

5. What is the cost per lead generated, per marketing technique daily, weekly and monthly.

6. What is the average income generated from each transaction generated by each marketing technique daily, weekly and monthly.

When you are able to track your business in this way, it makes it much easier to make adjustments as you go and it definitely gives a clearer picture of how well you are spending marketing dollars. Often times, as legendary basketball coach John Wooden would say “we mistake activity for productivity” The entire reason for developing and implementing a proper marketing plan is so that we can determine what works, what does not work and what changes we need to make so that we are spending the fewest dollars possible for the greatest impact and result. If we fail to implement any part of this type of marketing plan, then whatever success we achieve cannot be measured against any activities and therefore cannot be duplicated.

I am a big proponent of education and immersion as the best learning tools available and I believe that when it comes to marketing, it is simply too easy to learn the proper way to plan and track. When you have the basics down and solid plan to follow, success will follow.

An Education In Real Estate Investing Can Be Your Best Investment

There are many people that are venturing out and searching for additional ways to make additional income. That is to be expected when it comes to real estate. Real estate has been a popular investment for many years. Many millionaires made their first million dollars in real estate. So it should come as no surprise that Real Estate Investing is being glamorized by celebrities like Donald Trump and various television shows that depict real estate investing as a big money maker.

Real Estate Investing can be all that celebrities and television program make it out to be, but it is not as easy as it looks. Real Estate Investing requires knowledge of different techniques that can be used when trying to buy, sell, negotiate or repair a house. Without this type of specialized knowledge real estate investing can be a monumental disaster.

Having laser specific knowledge can mean the difference between success or failure. Knowledge is what separates those that invest in real estate and those that talk about investing in real estate. The knowledge that is required is not difficult to master. In fact, just about anyone can be a successful real estate investor. I have seen people from all walks of life and educational backgrounds go on to be successful real estate investors. One man that I know and admire very well became a successful real investor despite the fact that he first had to learn how to read. It is possible for anyone to learn how to invest in real estate.

Who should learn more about real estate investing? Anyone that is considering buying property as an investment should become educated before doing so. Rentals, foreclosures, rehabs, lease options and various other techniques are tried everyday by real estate investors. In most cases however, only the investors who have taken the time to educate themselves will be successful.

Also, anyone that is considering buying or selling houses on their own (without a realtor) is at considerable risk of financial loss if they don’t get an education before venturing out into unchartered waters.

There are many different types of educational opportunities. One can always purchase books from the local bookstore to get some advice. There is also a large number of websites that cater to real estate investing. Some of these sites will sell home study courses that, in some cases, give a thorough, explanation, training and education on various real estate investing topics. One may also find coaching and mentoring online to help those that don’t believe they are quite comfortable enough yet to do real estate deals on their own. Some colleges and Universities have also started to teach real estate investing.

It is never too early to start the educational process. Real Estate Investing can be a very lucrative business. It can also bankrupt those that are not ready to invest or that do not understand how to minimize the risks that come with the real estate investing territory. In the end every one that invests in real estate is doing so at their own risk. A proper education in real estate investing is a great way to minimize that risk and start one on a path of financial freedom.