Successfully transferring wealth to your heirs is a challenging but priceless undertaking. It is the result of careful, thoughtful planning and should not be taken lightly. As we work with our clients to craft their estate plans, we face many challenges together. The following are some of the more important things to consider while making these valuable decisions.
The Taboo of Wealth Management
Talk with your children about money and wealth and, specifically, about your plans for the future. You don’t have to provide specific figures at first, but do start a dialogue so your kids can better plan for their own futures, knowing what to expect from you. Most families never talk about money. Especially in later years when a child may help with a parent’s financial affairs, this can lead to distrust, misunderstandings and unrest between siblings. Share with your children where you stand, your estate plans, who will be in charge (and why) and what you are doing from here to there.
When to Start Estate Planning
Realize that estate planning is as much about what you do with your wealth and heirs while you are alive as it is after you pass away. We see too often that most people think of estate planning as something that comes into effect when they die, but this is only half the story. Involve children in understanding and assisting you with your own personal wealth expression while you are alive. This could be for your children, grandchildren, charities, or yourself. It’s your money; you earned it, saved it and invested it. One of the best things we see is for parents to find ways to enjoy providing a living legacy – a way to see the impact of money used wisely. Or, in the worst case scenario, to be able to adjust estate plans in light of the misuse of any lifetime bequests.
Heirs & Estate Planning
We see a great blind spot in how money is transferred between generations. Most think of what the money can do for the next generation. It can provide for a better life, a great education, the purchase of a new home, or long-term security. Sadly, little attention is paid to what money does to the next generation. Generations have disparate views on what money is all about. As such, with little or no attention paid toward what a gift does to a person, huge rifts can develop. Gifts can lead to both independence and dependence. They can provide seed capital and inspiration, or become a private dole that mitigates success. This is true within families, from one child to the next. Do not assume that each child will react similarly to identical gifts. In an effort to provide equality, unequal terms and expectations may be prudent.
Beyond the Estate Plan
Most people think of an estate plan as the document by which you divide up for your family, once you are gone, the assets you accumulate. But that is just the start. Given the widely different views on money that generations have, the best estate plans do more than simply provide a division of an estate. They also provide for closure for heirs. We believe that it is crucial to look at each child and grandchild and provide something for them that is tangible, along with a personal note explaining why they are receiving it, what it meant to you and what you hope it will mean to them. Money is easily divisible, but a favorite heirloom will provide for a lasting memory that in most cases becomes more valuable to the recipient. Further, it helps to distribute items that are difficult to divide. It makes the giving more special as compared to the legalese found in wills and trusts. Write the letter personally, by hand, with love and affection and avoid scolding.
Transfer More Than Your Wealth
Estate planning is more than just dividing up your life’s possessions. It should also be about transferring your wisdom. Write what you think are the ‘golden rules’ in life in a separate letter to your heirs. Detail the best things you have done in your life and why, as well as those you regret. Don’t be preachy; just share how and why you think you were successful and where you weren’t. Most importantly, get personal. This is a method by which your legacy, in a form of more than just money, will live on for generations to come.