Dividing your estate around black sheep
Every family faces a unique set of circumstances when it comes to wealth, financial planning and thinking about the future.
But no matter the situation — whether you have many children or none, whether you’re married or divorced — it is essential to consider your specific beneficiaries’ circumstances when it comes to estate planning.
Perhaps you are worried about substance abuse, a son- or daughter-in-law who is irresponsible with money or has mental illness, or siblings with different levels of motivation. Perhaps you simply want to incentivize certain behaviors in the future. All of these situations can be addressed thoughtfully and effectively in your estate planning documents.
There are several myths about how estates must be distributed that can lead to lots of worry about what will happen to a “wild child” in the future and stress about family dynamics. Let’s explore four of them.
Myth #1: You must divide your estate evenly among beneficiaries
Disinheriting a beneficiary is more common than you think. Sometimes, disinheriting happens for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with disapproval of a potential beneficiary’s lifestyle choices.
For example, if you have a family member who is disabled, you may opt to leave more assets to that beneficiary to ensure their medical or caregiving needs will be met in the future, thereby leaving less to your other beneficiaries.
In other cases — ranging from wanting to protect assets from a spendthrift beneficiary to equalizing distributions when major financial gifts have been made during life — you may choose to make disproportionate allocations.
If you have helped one child with a down payment on a home but your other child has not settled down enough to be ready to handle homeownership, you may want to leave that child additional funds from your estate to make up for helping the first child buy a home.
No matter the reason for disinheriting completely or making unequal distributions, it is best to explain either in your estate documents or in a separate letter the rationale behind your decision so as to avoid the possibility of a claim against the estate or even just hard feelings among family members.
Myth #2: Once you have disinherited the wayward beneficiary, you cannot change your mind
In actuality, we recommend that you re-evaluate your estate-planning choices periodically. Situations change, hopefully in a positive direction, and you can revise your estate documents to provide incentives for your beneficiary to continue making progress.
Myth #3: You cannot control things from the grave
Of course, you won’t have direct control after you pass. You can, however, make specific provisions in your trust to incentivize desired behaviors.
Examples include establishing trusts for beneficiaries that call for the trustee to earn a certain dollar amount or allow distributions of percentages of the assets of the trust upon achieving certain life milestones.
You can also stagger the distribution schedule so that a beneficiary cannot burn through their inheritance all at once.
It is possible to treat the share of inheritance for one beneficiary different from others. You can allow one (financially responsible) child to access their share of the estate in one lump sum, establish a trust for the second child who is still finding their path in life with the ability to access the assets in a staggered fashion, and put the third child’s share in an incentive trust to encourage more responsible behavior in the future.
Myth #4 (and how to bust it): Trusts are complicated
Certain types of trusts allow you to name someone to help your beneficiary manage their inheritance. While you may not want to burden a family member or friend with the responsibilities of being a trustee — particularly if you have a serious or long-term situation with the beneficiary, such as mental illness or substance abuse —- you can name a professional trustee to assume the administrative responsibilities of a trust.
Although there are costs associated with hiring a corporate trustee, they are a small price to pay for the peace of mind in knowing that your loved ones, even the black sheep of the family, will receive their inheritance.
Even under the best of circumstances, estate planning can be difficult.
But rather than avoid the subject or struggle to grapple with it on your own, discuss the options available with your financial adviser and estate planning attorney. © The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.