Sooner or later, the transfer of your wealth will be the subject of who or what will be the recipient of your hard earned money and items. There are no hard and fast rules: every person, family and entity is different. If you have a dollar you have an estate, and plans as to who or what will be the recipient of it is all of your decision. There are however, a number of things to keep in mind when you make your plans. Life changes, and so do circumstance: the decisions you make today in writing should be revocable, meaning for the most part can be changed. Irrevocable changes may be elected, but for the purpose of this article, I will only address those written decisions that can be changed, or revoked.
After 30+ years of talking to thousands of people about how they would like to set up their estate planning, I've concluded that most people would rather talk about anything but life insurance and wills. Not that either one will shorten your life mind you, but it just seems that most folks have an aversion to talking about these two very real and important topics. We spend our lifetime amassing our fortune of money, jewelry, cars, homes and a myriad of "stuff" that means a lot to us, but the thought as to what will happen to it once we are gone rarely is discussed openly. Photos, collections, souvenirs, family heirlooms, dinnerware... the list is endless and as varied as we are. That having been said, I pose to you an alternative to the above: what say you give it away when you alive, versus waiting for you to leave on your last, permanent vacation? I have a watch which is fondly known in our family as "The Popwatch:" lovingly given to me by Elizabeth when my grandson was born. While I could leave it to him when I pass, my plan is to wait for an appropriate time as an adult, and pass it on... and enjoy watching him enjoy it while I'm still here to see it. In my humble opinion, too many things are left to our kids when we die- and the objects sit in a draw or vault for years and years before... why wait?
The choosing of beneficiaries is seemingly easy for most of us: we leave our stuff to our kids. The easiest is for those who have one child- after the surviving spouse dies, all goes to the only child. It gets a bit more complicated when there are multiple children. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, most choose to leave their estate evenly to all children. In the non-extenuating circumstances though, it gets a bit more dicey: did you give to one child more than the others during your lifetime, is one more in need than the other, is the (adult) child of special needs or requirements, or a host of issues that would help to dictate how to divide your estate. It's very important to note that if you choose to leave your estate in a non-equal way, you leave behind a battle royale between the children who feel shortchanged... and that's what they will remember you for. This situation will splinter the family you leave behind, in my mind one of the no-no's of estate planning.
So, what do you have today that you don't need or don't use that your kids or an organization could? Jewelry, tools, clothes... you forget the things you take for granted are badly needed or wanted by others. Do everyone a favor... look around and think about what you would be willing to part with while you can make the decision. The reality is, lot of your treasures will just be chucked when you're gone... one man's treasure is another man's (or woman's) garbage. Do it today- don't wait- and experience the joy of giving!