From time to time, we meet clients who think they understand estate planning, but in reality, they are misinformed. In this blog series, we'll take a look at a few common misconceptions we hear and set the record straight regarding estate planning in Georgia.
Misconception #2: “My estate plan must follow the traditional plan.”
Some people have conflated what may be common estate planning practices with legal requirements. Because assets are often left to the surviving spouse and then the children equally, or because the oldest child is often or traditionally named the executor, they believe that they must follow this plan. This is not the case.
While there may be moral or traditional reasons to follow the customary estate plan, it is not required by law. You want your wishes honored and hard-earned assets to be used wisely after you pass. We recommend that you tailor your estate plan to fit your situation, regardless of what others may expect or what others may commonly do in their estate plan.
As you select your fiduciaries, do no not feel pressured to follow the ‘norm.' Some people view these positions sentimentally as an honor to be given to favored relatives, but we do not recommend this. Remember, this a job, not an honor. Choose your executor, agent, trustee, and other representatives based on who will perform these jobs well and have the capacity and attitude to do them, not on the expectations and emotions of loved ones.
When it comes to distributing your assets, understand that equality is not required. If you have concerns about a beneficiary squandering their inheritance or feel that equal shares are not the best way to distribute your assets to your children, you have the right to plan your estate accordingly. Perhaps you want to leave more assets to a child with a pressing financial need or a larger family to provide for and less to a child with a stable financial situation. You could even choose to leave a child out of your Will altogether (this is known as disinheriting a child. We discuss the process further in this video).
There is also no requirement that each heir must inherit in the same manner. If your spouse has a history of poor fiscal decisions, their inheritance may need to be safeguarded in a trust. You may decide that one child's inheritance will be best managed through a trust, while the others receive their inheritance directly. Do what you need to do to set your loved ones up for success and maximize the benefit of your estate.
When making your Will, remember that you have the final say. Do not let pressure and expectations of family members sway your decisions. You have the right to make a plan that reflects your wishes and distributes your estate in the manner of your choosing, regardless of what others think.
Furthermore, remember this—no one has a right to see your Will before your die. It is a private matter, and you are under no obligation to share or discuss it with anyone. I often tell my clients that I have never seen anything good come out of sharing one's Will before death, but I have seen it result in conflict and turmoil within families. It may be wise, however, to have discussions with certain family members about your estate plan, so that they know what to expect, as well as what is expected of them. Importantly, you also want to discuss your wishes with your key agents, so they understand what you are trusting them to do.
If you have questions about the best plan for your situation, give Peach State Wills & Trusts a call.
Click the links below to read our other blogs in this series.