When you sit down with an attorney to plan an estate, there can be hundreds of variables -- your attorney will take care of almost all of these by finding out a little more about you and your estate. There will always, however, be three decisions you're going to have to make for yourself: who, where, and how.
Who do you trust?
Who do you trust to make decisions on your behalf? Almost everyone can count on their spouse, but after that, who would you trust to make financial decisions (or healthcare decisions) on your behalf if you're not able to? Do you have any children you can count on? Would you prefer a professional company be responsible?
It's not always about who has the most financial skill: an accountant and investing whiz who lives across the country may not have the resources or time to make sure that everything taken care on a day-to-day basis. On the other hand, a child who's reliable and nearby can always hire a financial adviser if they need help and will be available to make sure deadlines are met and bills are paid.
To make it simple, who would you call if you needed your house to be watched or a pet babysat while on vacation? The person or people you'd call to ask that simple favor are usually the people you trust and can rely on later.
Where do you want your money to go?
Most people equate the money they leave behind, the inheritance for their friends and family, as a sign of their love. The implication: if you don't split the money evenly, you don't love your children evenly. There are lots of good reasons to avoid splitting the money evenly even when you love all your children equally -- your attorney can help you identify and plan for these reasons.
Let's think of it this way: I'm going to give you $100,000 right now (because, hey, why not?), but you can't keep it, you have to give it away. Who would you give the money to? Many people will still split it evenly among their children. But lots of people may give to charity, help a child buy a home, or give it to someone they love to help them through a rough time. Perhaps the grandchildren would get more use out of it than the children. Maybe you've already helped out one child substantially more than others. For all the same reasons you might not split today's gifts perfectly even, you may want to split your final gifts unevenly as well.
How do you want your gift given?
Your attorney can advise you of hundreds of different ways to give a gift, including in a lump sum or over time. But the truth is that the ways to give your gifts are almost as limitless as your creativity. If you want to give to someone with a disability or special needs, there are great ways to do so without jeopardizing public benefits. As mentioned before, your attorney can let you know if this is the case; that decision is pretty easy. It gets tougher when you're trying to decide whether or not your beneficiaries and heirs are responsible enough for your gift.
If you're not sure, here's something to consider: if you didn't have to worry about taking care of yourself - everything you'd ever need would be free for the rest of your life - would you give your loved ones your money now, or would you hold on to it until they needed it? If you'd give it right away, a lump sum is probably your best choice, but if you'd wait until they needed it, your attorney can help you work through different ways to make sure your gifts are wisely used.
Cornerstone Law, LLC does not provide legal advice through this website; legal advice, by its very nature, requires a full understanding of your personal situation and can change from jurisdiction (your location) to jurisdiction. This website does not intend to provide legal advice, but instead, provide a general background education on different legal topics. If you would like legal advice, please contact Cornerstone here.