When it comes to your estate plan, have you planned your bequests in such a way as to avoid confusion, suspicion, or hurt feelings on the part of your heirs?
Take the example of Marian Paroo, town librarian from the musical The Music Man.
In the number Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little, the audience learns that Marian inherited the books in the town library from a benefactor who left the library building to the town. This caused some consternation from the gossiping ladies in the town who sing the number and who suggest that sweet, innocent Marian’s inheritance may have resulted from some unladylike behavior on Marian’s part.
Later we learn that the inheritance actually was quite innocent. In the real world, these negative feelings can be avoided with a little effort. Here are three estate planning tips that can help you avoid the reaction Marian received from the town ladies:
1) Talk to your heirs and be clear about your intentions. The biggest problem we see in our firm when it comes to estate plans is communication – specifically, a lack of communication between generations about estate planning. Parents – speak with your children and let them know what your plans are. If you are spreading your wealth unevenly, communicate your reasons why and give your children an opportunity to ask questions. Children – recognize that your parents are free to do whatever they want with their money. This is where an outside professional can help keep the lines of communication open, perhaps by facilitating a family meeting where all of these issues can be addressed honestly.
2) Make certain your heirs want what you’re going to give them. If not – make other arrangements. Not every asset you have is something the next generation wants. You likely own property to which you have great emotional attachment but your heirs might view as more clutter. Talk with your heirs about any unusual property you have and whether they would want to have it – or whether you should plan to get rid of it now.
3) Review your estate plan every 3-5 years. Life changes; your estate plan should keep up with those changes. A typical plan should be reviewed with an attorney every 3-5 years to make sure the plan is aligned with your intentions. Also, with tax laws changing every few years, your estate documents need to be up-to-date to conform. Ongoing reviews also serve as opportunities to evaluate your bequests and ask yourself, “Is there the possibility of negative feelings arising from these bequests?” If the answer is yes, see tips #1 and #2 above.
Think twice about your bequests – or else you, like Marian, may have trouble with a capital T.