by Claudette W. Patton, J.D.
Stock Yards Bank Wealth Management & Trust
Preparing a Life Plan is all about living and making good choices about your legacy. Most people avoid planning because they think it’s morbid to think about death, but a Life Plan – estate planning – isn’t about dying at all. It’s simply providing direction for your legacy and determining how you want to be remembered by your community, family, charities, and personal causes. It is a chronicle of your life’s work with a plan to continue the fruits of your work for the benefit of others.
The most important question remains: “Do you want to control your personal life legacy?” A well written and thought out Life Plan keeps you in control of your life even after you’re gone. The list of those who do not plan is replete with examples of unintended ex- spouses, estranged siblings, children with addictions, and others being granted inheritances by state intestacy law (lawyer lingo for “without a will”). A recent example of a man who did not control his legacy is the music legend, Prince. According to court documents filed in a Minnesota probate court, Prince Roger Nelson left no instructions to divide his belongings. As a result, state law could divide his vast estate equally among 8 siblings. It is reported Prince has one surviving full sister, five surviving half siblings, and two deceased half siblings (with surviving children). Some of these heirs had not spoken with Prince in over twenty years. However, Minnesota state law does not distinguish between full and half siblings, plus any personal relationship to Prince is irrelevant. Would Prince have approved of this distribution? Would you?
The following is a Life Plan “Control Checklist” to assist in protecting and directing your legacy:
Control Who Inherits Your Legacy and Designate The Amount For Each Heir
Many people assume everything in an estate automatically goes to the spouse. Please be aware not every state law automatically passes the entire estate to a spouse! I repeat. A spouse may not automatically inherit everything without a Will. Some states only allow a spouse 1/3 of an estate due to parental inheritance distribution laws. According to Kentucky intestacy law, a spouse may be fourth in the line of distribution. Also, state laws typically divide assets equally to the state designated heirs without consideration of a spendthrift relative, or someone with special medical needs. Children born out of wedlock may not be recognized in some states. Charitable giving may not occur. Additionally, if no living descendants are located the estate may “escheat” (go to) to the state coffers.
Control Who Will Take Care Of Your Minor Children
Preparing a Will and naming a guardian for your children places you in control of the person(s) you desire to meet the needs of your children and reflect your values. Without a Will the court may select a guardian from any family member, regardless if you were estranged during your life. If no family member agrees to guardianship or is deemed appropriate, the court may choose a state appointed guardian such as foster care.
Control Estate Taxes
Controlling taxes is a continuous event during our lifetime. An estate plan continues the control in minimizing estate taxes. A spouse may not take an inheritance tax free. Now is the time to put a plan in place to ensure the maximum of your legacy goes to your heirs rather than for taxes. Let’s revisit the example of music legend Prince. Without a Will or other estate planning, roughly one half of Prince’s estate could go to Federal and state taxes.
Having an estate plan helps speed the probate process, reduces probate costs, or in some circumstances, avoids probate completely.
Control Who Does Not Inherit
Earlier we discussed a plan to choose the exact people who receive your legacy. Now, we draw attention to controlling who will not inherit from your estate. An estate plan is your personal outline and direction of exactly how you want your personal legacy to be distributed. The estate plan allows you to be as detailed as possible and gives you the opportunity to exclude heirs making your intention of distribution clear. For example, perhaps some family members are financially established and you want to distribute assets based upon need, perhaps a family member may be incapable or irresponsible with money management needing small distributions of money over time using a trust, or perhaps a family member participates in lifestyle choices you may not wish to support.
Control Family Feuding
Estate planning may reduce the fighting and conflict among family members. Executing a well drafted estate plan places you in control of potential conflicts. Family members may not view your clear directions of dividing assets in a favorable manner, but your intentions will be clear to the court. Further, some states allow forfeiture/no contest clauses, indicating if an heir contests your estate plan then the heir may forfeit any gift made under the Will.
Control Charitable Legacy
An estate plan allows your legacy to live on by personally choosing charitable giving reflective of your values, interests, and social concerns.
Control Financial and Medical Care
Through estate planning with a Durable Power of Attorney, you control your financial and medical care in the event of a disability.
You can take control of your Life Plan now by engaging an experienced estate planning attorney to assist with the personal legacy you want to create. An estate plan expresses your values and outlines how you desire your assets to be preserved and protected. Who is in control of your legacy?
For more information about Life Plans, please contact our Wealth Management and Trust department.