- We'll discuss estate planning and things to consider with the following:
When the Robinsons' four kids were young, the family visited an amusement park. Mr. and Mrs. Robinson gave each kid a $20 bill and sent them off to have fun.
The oldest spent an hour comparing prices of games, rides, and food, then plotted her day so that the money lasted until closing.
The second child didn't play a single game or buy even an ice cream cone. He spent the day enjoying the sights and put the $20 in his piggy bank.
The third child ran out of money early and ended up asking his parents to buy him dinner.
And then there was Eddie.
The Robinsons' youngest child showed up at the meeting point at the end of the day dirty, sweaty, and grinning. When asked what he had spent his money on, he said he had lost it. But that was OK, he said, because he had the best time!
Then the Robinsons noticed he had also lost his glasses…and one of his shoes.
Even though their children are grown now, the Robinsons know that each one still retains the same basic money personality: the first is the planner, the second is the saver, the third is the spender. And Eddie is the one who always has an adventure, but has never been great at holding onto money.
The Robinsons love all their children equally. But how can they pass on their multimillion-dollar estate in a way that leads to the best outcomes for all four kids? They know that if each child simply receives a lump sum, the younger kids will not fare as well as the older two.
The Robinsons are fictional, but with the youngest Baby Boomers reaching retirement age by 2030, millions of Americans are in this very real situation: They need to make a plan for the wealth they have accumulated over their lifetimes. Both Paul Lankau, a Financial Advisor at First Horizon Advisors, Inc., and Wendy Martin, a Senior Trust Officer at First Horizon Bank, help these families understand that estate planning is actually a way for them to continue the same type of care they extended to their loved ones during their lifetimes.
“Estate planning is motivated by love. You want to make sure that the people you care about are taken care of when you're no longer here,” Lankau says.
Just as you parented each child individually while you were alive, your care from the hereafter can be individualized as well. And just like when they were little, your offspring don't only need gifts. Sometimes they also need guidance.
In a situation like the Robinsons', Martin recommends that clients engage their advisor and estate attorney to create a trust or trusts specifying the timing and circumstances under which each heir can access portions of their inheritance. For instance, the Robinsons could allow their oldest two to inherit immediately, but establish trusts for the younger two with access linked to milestones, such as college graduation or holding a job for a set period of time.
“A well-crafted trust can provide instruction and guidance that a Will cannot, and it can also protect assets for generations to come. Thoughtful trust planning allows for influence and education, even after death,” Martin says.
Here's a look at some other considerations when planning to continue caring for your loved ones through your estate.
It's very common for couples to bring children from previous relationships into a marriage. There is a wide range of approaches to raising a blended family. Some kids move freely among two households on the same block, while others may commute by plane from Mom's to Dad's house, spending summers in one state and school years in another.
It's the same when you plan for your continued care of your children and stepchildren after your death: There's often no one-size-fits-all.
“The solutions for blended families are as diverse and unique as the families themselves. Some couples choose to treat all of their children equally in an estate plan, even if one parent came into the marriage with a million dollars and the other came in with $10,” Martin says. “Others may want to make sure that the money they brought into the marriage passes to their biological children.”
Children With Disabilities
Estate planning is particularly crucial for parents who currently serve as full- or part-time caregivers for offspring with disabilities. Planning to fund their continued care after you're no longer able to provide it is not just a loving act for the affected child, but also for their siblings. You don't want their sibling's care to fall solely upon them.
Many families in this situation choose to work with an attorney to establish a trust specifically for the child with a disability, and designate a guardian to manage that money for them if necessary. Life and disability insurance for the parents can also be useful in these cases.
When clients sit down to make a plan for their legacy, they rarely look forward to leaving as much as they can to Uncle Sam.
“You probably don't love the IRS as much as you love your kids,” Lankau quips.
Keep in mind that 2022 federal estate tax only kicks in at $12.06 million ($24.12 million for married couples). But 17 states charge estate or inheritance taxes, or both.
There are many ways to ensure that as much of your hard-earned assets pass to your heirs as possible by working with attorneys and financial advisors. For instance, you can consider creating a charitable trust or funding a 529 college savings plan, both of which can remove money from your taxable estate. You can also potentially shrink your estate by making annual gifts to your future heirs during your lifetime. (You can give up to $16,000, or $32,000 for married couples, per individual, per year, without being subject to gift tax.)
If you need motivation to get going on your estate plan, picture your loved ones in the time after your passing. Do you want them to take comfort from sharing memories of the times you had together? Or would you rather have them scrambling through your home, searching for paperwork and worrying whether you left enough to pay for your funeral?
“Your family's already going to be dealing with losing you. You don't want them to have to worry about where the bank accounts and investment accounts are,” Lankau says.
And just as you might have reminded your kids not to squabble when they were little, an estate plan allows you to exert a calming influence after you're gone, making each of your heirs understand that you cared for them individually. This can go a long way toward continuing a positive family dynamic.
“We have seen families torn apart by a lack of estate planning. And we have seen families who have been blessed with parents who took the time to put in writing just what they want to have happen,” Martin says.
“Done well, it's a powerful expression of love,” says Lankau.
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*While First Horizon offers trust services we do not provide legal or tax advice. You should consult your legal or tax advisor concerning your situation.