Some folk just want to destroy their kids. While Mimic Jon and Kate Gosselin of “John and Kate Plus 8” fame have raised destroying children to new heights (lows?), too many parents use their estate plans to accomplish similar heartache. Some folks plan their estates in ways that will almost assure a will challenge, estrangement, or that there child will spend the rest of his days bemoaning the evil done unto him. Here’s some good ways to plan your estate to accomplish just that.
√Do a Leona! Leona Helmsley's dog, trouble, was to continue to live an opulent life, and then be buried alongside Leona in a mausoleum and was bequeathed $12 million to keep him in Puppy Chow. Two of Leona's grandchildren supposedly received nothing from her estate. The sordid details are pretty long.
√ Use your will and other estate planning documents to formally “dis” a child. The words of your last will, letter of instruction and related documents are viewed by many heirs as your partner words. Including hurtful statements in these documents is almost always harmful and inappropriate. “I leave nothing to my son Joe because he was disrespectful, ungrateful, and married a witch.” While you might feel that way, the use of a less harmful phrase like “I leave nothing to my son Joe for reasons best known to me,” can accomplish the same legal objective of assuring that it wasn’t a scrivener’s error that Joe was overlooked, without carving nastiness into eternity.
√Not leaving the door open. Disinheriting a child completely is often harsher than it needs to be. Leaving a 5% tip to a waitress that wasn’t great can get your point across, and might even encourage better service for the next customer. In contrast, a -0- tip might just evoke anger and accomplish little. No one has the right to tell you not to disinherit a child, but consider the consequences and options. Might it be better if you have a $2 million estate and 4 children to leave the wayward son $50,000 or $100,000 and state: “I have left $100,000 to Joe hoping that in time he will make peace with himself and the memories we had,” or “I have left $100,000 to Joe to acknowledge my love and affection for him and to express my sadness that our relationship had not been closer.” Many lawyers will balk at this approach as it might provide a opening for a challenge that may not have existed. However, if it can mend an heirs heart, or prevent an heir from seething in anger for his remaining lifetime, might it not be worthwhile?
√Leave disproportionate bequests. Leave your daughter 75% of your estate and your son 25% because you liked your daughter more. OK, no one can tell you how to divide your estate, but what if the will left everything equally and you made gifts to your daughter while you were alive, or used life insurance in a trust, or some other mechanisms that were not “in your son’s face” to favor your daughter. You don’t have to skin the estate distribution cat in the most obvious and offensive way possible. Subtlety can do much to preserve family peace.
√Disinherit someone based on who they marry. Nothing like hating that son-in-law to stir the family pot. Consider instead a bequest to a trust with a close friend or family member who understands your concerns as trustee. Give the trustee absolute discretion over distributions to the child and other beneficiaries, perhaps a charity. Your wishes might be carried out without the blatant disinheritance or comments about a spouse. If the marriage fails apart from your disappointment, then the trust can be their to help your child move forward.
√Ignore the emotional value of tangible property. Your wife, the mother of your children, died. You hold her jewelry and other memorabilia, but on your death your will has a generic clause bequeathing all personal property to your new wife. Your daughters will now never get the memories of their mother, and worse, they have to watch your new wife wear them.
√Ignore the religious preferences of your heirs. One or more of your children have adopted a new faith, or perhaps are more observant in the faith your family shares. Instead of insisting on actions which will morally torment them, try to find more of a middle ground that is not offensive to anyone. Sure, it is your life and your body and you can do as you wish, but if you can achieve the goals that are really important to you without upsetting surviving heirs, isn’t that preferable?
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