Ralph DiLeone Publishes Article in April 2012 Issue of Boom Magazine
When planning how to distribute the assets of your estate following your death, you need to think wisely and carefully about each part of your plan. Many families’ relationships have ended permanently when members legally contest a will that failed to specify who received what items from the deceased’s estate.
To prevent such discord, you need to consider several major issues. One is the timing of distributing your assets. If you have children, their ability to manage a large lump sum of money prudently and responsibly following your death may not be in place until they reach full maturity. To prevent mismanagement and overspending, consider doling out your assets in several three- to five-year stages, or even holding off releasing your money to dependents until they reach a certain age.
Plan to leave enough cash in your estate plan so that your youngest child is not penalized by the distribution setup – unless you want it to occur that way. A system can be established to allow an advance to dependents under discretion for certain situations you name as well, such as for a wedding or home purchase or business venture.
If you want someone in your family not to receive your assets, for whatever reason, you need to specify that in the will to guarantee your wishes will be followed. This language can be as simple as writing, “I hereby disinherit [name of person]. I do not want him to receive anything from my estate.” That legally binding wording sounds cold to some, and in fact some clients decide against including it in a will upon final review. Others qualify the condition by allowing other assets to go to the person instead, such as naming a family member the primary beneficiary of their life insurance policies in place of money bestowed from a will.
Distributing assets in percentages is an easier and better approach than listing exact dollar amounts per person in a will, because you can total up what you have to 100 percent and not have any leftover funds. With levels of cash listed, you could have money left over in your will if your investments outperform expectations, or conversely too little remaining following your death. Either way could prompt a messy court battle among your survivors. If you really want to include round figures in your will, consider compromising by listing certain amounts and then stating any remaining money will be split among your survivors by an equal percentage.
For specific tangible assets to be distributed as part of an estate, include a memorandum attached to the will stating who will receive these items, such as a mother’s jewelry going to a daughter or sister. Otherwise, the executor will try to distribute your personal items equitably, which could result in arguments among your heirs. This applies particularly to collections of goods you have as a hobby – make sure you dictate who will get your rare books, vintage vehicles or other precious items, or where you will donate them, if you want to put them with a charitable group or association.
Make your executor’s life easier by confirming with him or her first about being agreeable to serve this role for you. Oftentimes a family member is not the best solution for this position, especially if he or she is to receive some of your assets, which could make other survivors think there is a conflict of interest and lead them to contest your will. Give a trusted friend your power of attorney, and review with him or her the issues involved to make sure they are up to the task, including having to tell heirs unexpectedly disappointing or bad news.
To avoid confusion and legal conflicts, never distribute a copy of your will to anybody. All that is needed is for the executor to know where the will is located. He or she can handle the job from there.