If you’ve thought about estate planning and have contemplated when and how to distribute your assets to your heirs, read on. You probably imagine that this process will entail a series of trade-offs to prevent emotion-laden family problems. However, when you focus on numbers, you’re dealing with objective and straightforward facts.
But, you are in murkier waters when considering who should inherit your wealth, and you understand that emotions will most likely factor into those decisions. The truth is, there is no correct answer to how to distribute your estate. But here are some questions that will help frame your thinking:
- How much would you like to leave to charity and how much to your family?
- Will you divide your assets equally among your heirs, or on some other basis, like need or good behavior?
- What form does your estate take? Is it cash, securities or some other assets? Do you want to give these outright or leave them in a trust?
- Can the heirs you chose to handle the responsibility of managing their own finances, or will they need help?
- If you use a trust, will there be provisions, what will they be and whom will you designate as the trustee?
Maybe we should take a step back and clarify what exactly an heir is. An heir is a relation who potentially is entitled to money or property after you die, such as a spouse or child. Laws in each state outline the exact order in which heirs inherit property, but the list stops at a certain point. Not every heir automatically inherits.
The term “heir” is often used when someone dies without a will. When that happens, the estate administrator tries to find who rightfully inherits the property.
A “beneficiary” is a person or an organization who receives money or property by being specifically named in your will or trust. Beneficiaries can include charities, descendants or close friends, even places of worship.
If you leave a will, beneficiaries often have more rights to whatever assets remain after probate. If you don’t leave a will, the assets go to the first heir in line, and the process continues until a living blood relative is found. Keep in mind that rules may vary depending on the jurisdiction.
Trusts can help ensure the people you want to get your assets, in the form you want. Ensuring the transfer of your hard-earned assets to your heirs is a crucial part of a well-thought-out estate plan. Although it may be uncomfortable to have a conversation like this with your spouse, your children, and other possible heirs, it will enable them to ask questions and to clarify what your exact wishes are. While the estate planning talk deals with sensitive issues, it will mean a smoother transition for your heirs after your death.