Do I Have An Estate Worth Planning?

By Mark T. Coulter, Esquire
Estate Planning Attorney

I am often asked this question, and the answer is: YES! If you are the “short answer” type of person, then that is all you need to know, and you can call us for a complimentary review of your estate planning needs. If you prefer longer answers, which unfortunately is my habit, then I offer the following observations.

When people asked me whether they are wealthy enough to consider estate planning, or trusts, or some other techniques, I often relay my observation that we all die with essentially the same amount of assets; i.e. it’s all that we have. While some people objectively have greater wealth, and some may have less, we all have something that we want to make sure is properly attended to. The beauty of contemporary estate planning is that there are a variety of tools and techniques which can be brought to bear on a situation, depending upon the goals we are trying to achieve, and the nature of the assets for which we are planning.

Many people don’t realize how their assets stack up compared to the country as a whole. It is common to look at our neighbors, or our community, as representative of the general population, and to compare our own situation to what we know, think, or surmise our neighbors have accumulated. When you dig into the actual data, however, a different picture often emerges, and this picture often shows my clients have done a better job than they thought.

A nice source of national data is the Survey of Consumer Finances conducted every three years by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. This national study is specifically designed to help the government and the public understand the financial condition of families in the United States, and study the effects of changes in the economy. The diagram below summarizes the net worth of various age brackets at certain percentage breakpoints across the country. For example, households headed by a primary earner over age 55, with a net worth of $548,910.00, puts them in the top 25% in the country. Even $194,700.00 still puts you in the top half. When you add up the value of your home equity, retirement accounts, savings and investments, etc., you can see where you fall. 

My clients are often surprised how high on that chart they sit. Obviously, these brackets and percentages cover lots of ground, and there are gaps in between. A good online calculator to show your specific percentage compared to the U.S. population, based upon your age and assets, can be found at

While finding out where you stand compared to the rest of the country is an interesting, and sometimes illuminating, exercise, it doesn’t truly answer the question about whether someone needs to consider estate planning. Passing on wealth to families at death is certainly part of a common estate planning discussion, but other things need to be considered as well, such as:

  • Will someone have authority to manage my affairs if I am physically or mentally unable to do so?
  • Who will have the authority to direct medical care decisions for me, and who might be able to interfere with those decisions?
  • How do I want care decisions made when I am faced with end-of-life issues?
  • Will the actions required following my death be expensive, complicated, and/or slow?
  • If I have young children, who will take care of them in the future, and who can take care of them in a crisis?
  • What would happen to an inheritance if my children experienced a divorce? Or got sick? Or got sued?
  • Do I have loved ones who need protected, either from themselves, or from outsiders who might try to take advantage of them?
  • If I need long-term care, such as a nursing home, will this put what I leave behind at risk?
  • What are the tax implications, in life and after death, of the choices I make?

Each one of the families I speak with is unique. We all have our own circumstances, concerns, victories, failures, assets, liabilities, and 1,000 other things which make us different. There is no one magic estate plan which is right for everyone, yet everyone can start finding what the appropriate answers are for themselves the same way. Contact our office to arrange a complimentary consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you make sense of it all. If you have already done estate planning and would like someone to look it over, we are happy to provide this service as a part of this complimentary consultation process as well.  Since the appointment is free, you don’t need to worry that your wealth rank will drop either!

Contact us today to start this process before time slips away. Don’t let protecting your family be one of those things you meant to do, but didn’t.  As always, we are available to answer any questions you may have regarding estate planning issues for your family or your family-owned business.

About Our Law Office

At the Estate Planning Centers at Coulter & May, P.C., we devote our practice to estate planning and assisting families through such transition times with estate and trust administration counseling. We offer guidance and advice to our clients in every area of estate planning, and offer comprehensive and personalized estate planning consultations. For more information or to attend an upcoming seminar or to book a consultation directly, please contact us at (412) 253-7526 or visit us online at

Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is a conversational summary of a complex area of law and should not be construed to constitute legal advice. No person should rely upon the content of this article for making any decisions, and should instead consult with appropriate legal and tax professionals.