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Designing an estate plan that cares for your loved ones and makes a positive impact on the world isn’t as simple as deciding who gets how much of what. Your answers to these three questions will help you weigh your family’s unique dynamics and your values as you lay the foundation for a generational legacy.
1. Do I want to divide my assets between my heirs and my favorite charities?
Leaving everything to "the good kid" and trusting that person to make smart decisions with your assets is certainly the easiest estate-planning strategy. But it's never the most effective, or the most beneficial to the people and causes that matter to you. Once you've passed on and your estate has been settled, any number of external factors could get between your chosen heir and their best intentions.
That's why it's so important that you are as clear and specific about your wishes as you can be while you’re still of sound body and mind. Rather than burden your heirs with a decision about how much of their inheritance should go to a favored cause, make the decision for them. A dedicated giving strategy can also save your heirs some headaches come tax time and provide a charitable example that your family might feel inspired to follow.
2. Do my heirs have a healthy relationship with money?
Many parents and grandparents worry that leaving too much money to the kids will spoil them, while leaving too little will create unnecessary struggles.
A better way to approach this problem is to think about how your heirs currently manage the money that they have. After all, money means very different things to different people. One of your children might look at a generous inheritance and see the foundation of a nest egg that they will continue to grow as they work. Another child might look at that same amount of money and see a sports car that they'll be bored with six months after they buy it.
This is yet another reason why you shouldn't trust one of your heirs to divide your estate "fairly." You have every right to decide what "fair" means based on what your heirs need, what they hope to achieve in their lives and careers, their willingness to pay your generosity forward, and their level of responsibility. Explaining the thinking that went into your decisions once you've signed your estate plan might make for an awkward conversation or two. But it can also minimize any surprises or hurt feelings after you're gone.
3. What is our family's mission?
As important as it is to protect your assets, the best estate plans are about something more. They're a message to your heirs that says, "This is who we are as a family, and these are the things that are important to us."
Some folks memorialize that mission by using their estate plans to create charitable organizations or trusts that they ask their heirs to manage. Others include letters or video testimonials so that they can explain their most cherished values in their own words. Families that really want to achieve alignment might even work together on a family mission statement that will guide everyone towards positive, impactful decisions as one generation gives way to the next. The more aligned your estate plan is to that established mission, the more empowered everyone will feel to carry on your legacy.
Of course, your complete estate plan also protects and cares for you when you are at your most vulnerable. Don't put off making these important decisions. Let's talk soon about preserving your assets, your values, and your Return on Life.