After testing out an estate planning pilot program last year with more than 1,100 of its employees, State Employees' Credit Union wants one more round of feedback before rolling out services to its 1.6 million members.
Nearly 3,000 volunteers with SECU's advisory board and board of directors are next in line to use the "estate planning essentials pilot program." Available at the $21 billion SECU's branch locations in North Carolina, each estate planning package will include a will with possible trust provisions, a durable power of attorney, a health care power of attorney and living will, and a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act authorization.
For wills that include trust provisions and other more complex planning, SECU Trust Services, through MEMBER Trust Co., can be named as the corporate trustee by the member to manage the trust assets and oversee the distributions on behalf of the beneficiaries.
Sara Trexler, senior vice president of trust services at SECU, said the feedback received from 1,158 employees and their spouses on the program was a resounding success. One of the areas the credit union wanted to learn more about was estimating the time each appointment would take. Specifically, the credit union did not want members waiting for a long time in the lobby to see a representative. Employees came to the table with 401(k) and state retirement plan questions.
"The program is intended to cover the estate planning needs of most members whose situation can be addressed in one appointment with an attorney," Trexler said. "The credit union's goal is to assist members in preparing for the future needs of their family and to ensure that their intended plans are defined and documented appropriately."
SECU's volunteers have been good gauges of the types of products and services members are asking for, Trexler said. For instance, members were seeking help in identifying attorneys that could assist with their long-term planning needs. The credit union partnered with attorneys that have extensive experience in the trusts area. Trexler said they were also good sounding boards for things like pricing and if estate planning would be of interest to members.
While some banks require at least a minimum of $1 million in assets before proceeding with trust services, SECU is hoping its thresholds will make estate planning much more accessible, Trexler said. The pilot package is $250 for individuals and $350 for married couples. For those who want to spread out the payments, a loan offers $23 and $32 monthly payments to be paid out over one year.
SECU is looking at rolling out the program to members either March 1 or April 1, Trexler said "If it's going really well and there no issues with appointment times, we may flip the switch earlier but we're looking at the first quarter."
The credit union is also planning to run articles in its newsletter introducing the service to members as well as posting banners. SECU may also conduct sessions at conferences geared toward retired state employee groups and state organizations, Trexler said. A financial wellness program effort with the North Carolina Office of State Personnel could also help drum up awareness. Previously, SECU could only offer referrals for employees with the state's Department of Highway Transportation. Now, discussions are on track to offer the estate planning plans directly to the agency.
The pilot program can also start conversations about different things going in a member's life, such as insurance coverage, Trexler said. Because the trust reps are salaried and do not receive commission, there isn't an urgency to push products and services that are not needed.
As in some states, if a resident of North Carolina dies without a will, there may be some surprising discoveries. For instance, regarding real and personal property, if the resident is married with children, the estate is divided between spouse and children, according to SECU. However, if a person is not married and does have children, all property goes to parents and siblings.
Another issue that arises if a person dies without a will is the guardianship of children under 18. If there is no surviving parent to care for them, the Department of Health and Human Services will have temporary guardianship until a permanent guardian can be appointed.
"One thing we always ask is 'what happens if you die and you don't have a will,'" Trexler said. "We've heard stories of members that didn't have plans in place or hadn't made updates."