Expressing your values in your estate plan is one way to preserve your legacy and ensure your wishes are upheld after your lifetime. There are a number of different provisions and considerations that you can choose to build into your planning documents.
Managing family dynamics
No two families are alike, and each family has its own unique cast of characters. Your estate plan can expressly state how you want your executor or successor trustee to engage with and distribute assets to your beneficiaries to help protect your family from confrontation and discord.
Perhaps one of your goals is to lessen the likelihood of sibling rivalry. Maybe you have one child who has been the recipient of lifetime gifts or loans while others were more self-sufficient as adults. Or you have blended family that needs certain parameters. Each of these scenarios can be addressed in your estate planning documents.
Your estate plan can even serve to uphold your family culture and traditions. For example, if you have one family member who traditionally hosts holiday gatherings, you might opt to bequeath family heirlooms such as china, crystal, or other items of tangible personal property to that particular beneficiary. Similarly, you might also decide to add a trust provision giving a valuable collection or items you own pertaining to a shared interest to a family member who enjoys that same hobby.
Incentive trust provisions
Whether you value hard work, higher education, or giving back to the community, your estate plan can state that beneficiaries must meet specific conditions or achieve certain milestones before they are entitled to distributions.
For example, you might want to provide that outright distributions to your beneficiaries must wait until they reach a given age or earn a post-baccalaureate degree. The use of controlled substances can also be discouraged in your estate plan. Such provisions potentially allow one to control family circumstances from beyond the grave, but they can be difficult to administer and decrease flexibility.
If giving back to the community through philanthropy is something you value, your estate plan can reflect that, and you can continue to make a positive impact after you are gone. Your charitable intent can be expressed by outright bequests to your favorite charities, scholarship funds, and beneficiary designations. A private foundation or a donor advised fund at your local community foundation can even get your beneficiaries involved in giving back. Such strategies can ensure your assets have a lasting impact.
Communication is up to you
If open communication is part of your family culture, you might want to start discussing your wishes with your loved ones and share details of your estate plan now to avoid surprises or disappointment in the future. These conversations can be a great way to improve family dynamics, emphasize your charitable intent, or explain your intentions as to certain provisions in your documents. The topics of money and death have a tendency to bring out new and perhaps unfamiliar personality traits in your family. If your wishes are clearly stated, you can spare your loved ones future stress and conflict.
Many have found that open advance communication, perhaps including professional advisors, have the potential to positively impact future outcomes.
Keep in mind that there is no requirement that you share the details of your estate plan while you are living if you are not so inclined. You are free to honor your family’s culture by communicating how you see fit during your lifetime.
Your communication can also evolve with your family. Establishing your estate plan takes careful planning, and your values can shine through the pages and pages of provisions. Your estate planning lawyer will ask you questions, listen to your answers, and help you draft documents that not only comply with legal formalities but also truly reflect your wishes. Then when the time comes, your successor trustee will execute your plan as written, hopefully with a minimal amount of no stress and strife as to who you were and what you valued.
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