Everyone comes to their planning with a different driving motivation. “‘Many people focus on estate planning with regard to who will take care of the kids,’ [Sharon DeVaney] said. ‘But the responsibility of taking care of older parents and changes associated with divorce can be just as important as motivators.'” Motivation Key to Estate Planning, Purdue University, July 18, 2007.
Here are a few of the reasons our clients have cited for why they were finally getting their Wills and other planning done. Do any of these sound familiar?
- If something happens, who’s gonna take the kids?
- I don’t want to be a burden on my family.
- There’s no way my son-in-law is getting a dime of my money!
- My grand-daughter has special needs. I want to leave money for her, but she’ll lose her benefits if she inherits.
- I’d like to make sure my family doesn’t fight over my thimble collection.
Okay, so that last one might be a joke, but sometimes people are concerned about their kids fighting over the personal mementos they only have one of: Mom’s engagement and wedding rings; the antique clock; grand-father’s war medals.
Whatever your reasoning for getting your planning done, it’s unique to you. It’s Your Unique WhyTM. We have a great survey tool to help folks identify their Unique Why. It looks in more detail at the five categories of reasons you should consider in determining Your Unique WhyTM.
Goals What is your primary purpose for planning? The examples above are just a few motivating factors someone might have for rustling up the courage to call the attorney and get the process started. Probably the most common goal is to avoid a tragic situation witnessed in someone else’s life: long and ugly probates; family fighting over young children or worse, no one fighting for young children; families torn apart over money. Generally, anything that makes you think, “Wow, that would never happen in my family” are precisely the things you should plan for.
You’ve heard the saying, “Blood is thicker than water?” We tack onto the end, “but money is thicker than blood.” Unfortunately we see it played out over and over again. When we work more closely with families, we instead guide them to create scenarios and situations that will foster family relationships, and allow families to draw closer in times of crisis.
People Who are the most important people in your world? Spouse? Children? Grandchildren? Other family? Friends? It’s not enough to think of just who you want to benefit, you’ll also want to consider their circumstances. Often, even without a Will or Trust, your assets would pass to your children. But if you have a child with a disability, receiving an inheritance can be devastating for retaining public benefits.
Things Most people think about money when they think about “things,” but in reality personal mementos are just as important. Choosing specific items to leave to loved ones can be a tribute of affection, especially when there are bonding memories attached to those items. For example, if you bonded with your granddaughter over tea parties using your antique china, imagine her reaction when she ultimately receives that china as a last gift from you.
As we alluded to above, you’ll also want to contemplate what to do with unique sentimental keepsakes. Consider, for example, family photo albums, family collectibles, war memorabilia, furniture, artwork, collections, and jewelry. And of course, special cash gifts, especially outside of your general distribution plan, should be well documented in your written estate plan.
Causes Estate planning is an opportunity for a final and lasting gift to the causes, charities and organizations that were meaningful to you during your lifetime. Consider places where you volunteered, or that benefited your family. Religious or spiritual organizations, child or education focused entities, service clubs, music or theater programs, just to name a few.
Values You might want to consider promoting your most important values through your estate planning. Trustees might be instructed to support beneficiaries educational endeavors or reward entrepreneur-ism. Be mindful of how you want your assets distributed if your values are not adopted by your beneficiaries, and the benchmarks you set are not met.
Some values are prohibited as being against public policy, meaning that the courts feel they infringe on a beneficiary’s liberties to a point they are so inappropriate as to be deemed invalid. These include requirements to have or not have children, or to marry by a certain age – sorry to you fans of The Bachelor.
No matter your motivation, Your Unique WhyTM is just that. It’s yours. It’s unique to you. And it’s what you want to mindful of as you work with your attorney to complete your planning.