Top 10 Worries for Clients
Sitting on my side of the conference table (or zoom camera, as it is more often than not), I hear a lot about the innerworkings of my clients’ families, finances and personal lives. Through all the stories of family conflict and loss I’ve heard, there are a few common concerns my estate planning clients come to me with.
For today’s blog post, I thought I’d share a few of the worries I hear the most often from my clients. Whether any of these topics weigh on your mind or not, my goal is to remind you that you should feel comfortable sharing the good, bad and ugly in your life with your estate planning attorney. If the attorney preparing your will or trust does not know what weighs on your mind, it is a lot harder for him or her to create a plan that fully addresses your concerns.
In no particular order, the top worries my clients come to me with are as follows…
- Will my child’s inheritance be protected from my child’s (current or future) spouse?
Whether my client has minor children or children that are adults with a family of their own, a lot of people worry that the inheritance they pass to their children will wind up with their child’s spouse should there be a divorce or premature death. No matter how much my clients love the ones their children have married, many want to be sure their kids are protected even if there’s a divorce down the road.
- What will happen to my children’s inheritance if my spouse remarries after I die?
This is another big one. At the root of this worry, is not just what happens to my kids if my spouse remarries after I die. It’s- what happens to my kids if my spouse remarries and has additional kids with a future spouse
? While this issue may feel awkward to raise at an initial consultation, or at any point in the planning process with your spouse sitting next to you, it’s a perfectly normal concern to have and is something you should feel very comfortable raising with your attorney.
- What administrative/court proceedings will my family have to deal with after I die?
The truth is, most of my clients do not know what happens on the legal side after someone dies. The clients who do know are primarily the ones who have lost loved ones in the past, and played a role in administering the estate that was left behind. The Court proceedings to prove up a will (or heirship, when a valid will is not in effect), are known as “probate.” The steps vary based on where the decedent resided when he or she passed, whether there was a valid will in place, whether that will is subject to dispute, and whether an independent executor can be appointed.
- Is there a way to avoid probate?
Whether or not my clients have dealt with probate in the past, they are often anxious to create an estate plan that allows their family to avoid probate altogether after they’re gone. Probate avoidance is one of the top goals my clients come to me with, and there are several strategies that can be used to limit probate proceedings or avoid them altogether.
- Will I owe estate taxes?
Everyone is concerned that after their death, their surviving spouse, children or other loved ones will lose a giant portion of their inheritance to taxes. It’s for this very reason that estate planning attorneys generally gather financial information for clients at the outset of an engagement, so that tax exposure can be taken into account when we create your plan. Be transparent about your assets so that you can get accurate advice tailored to your situation and needs.
- My child has special needs. What will happen to their inheritance?
This question often comes up in the context of government aid that is distributed based on an individual’s economic means. As such, when a client comes to me with a child who has special needs and is either currently receiving governmental aid, or is anticipated to receive such aid in the future, there is a huge concern that receiving an inheritance will disqualify that child from ongoing governmental aid. Your attorney can help you determine whether an inheritance will disqualify your child from receiving governmental aid, and if so, will identify the type of trust (likely a special needs trust) that will allow your child to inherit without disqualifying him or her from receiving certain means-tested aid.
- What will happen to my pets after I die?
We love our pets! Whether my clients are married or single, have kids or do not, we all come to view our fur babies as a part of our immediate family. Don’t feel silly- let your attorney know that your cat, dog or other pet needs to be provided for in your will, and your attorney will help you determine how best to accomplish your goals.
- My kids are too young to come into an inheritance. How do I provide for them in the long term?
Whether we feel wealthy or not, once our retirement savings and life insurance policies come into the equation, we have a hefty sum to leave to our children. It is very common to worry about how to structure the finances for kids so that they do not inherit right away, but instead receive staggered access to their inheritance as they grow into adulthood. Your attorney will be able to talk to you about the different options for providing long term financial support for your children, which can be geared towards encouraging them to achieve certain goals (such as graduating from college or vocational school), or can be based on age or other life events. No matter your exact goals, making a long term plan for your family is one of the advantages of working with an estate planning attorney so you should be sure to raise this issue if it is on your mind.
- If something happens to me, who will raise my kids until they become adults?
In my opinion, the worst part of something happening to me is the worry of what would happen to my kids without me around. While my husband would be the natural legal guardian of them, if something happened to him too we needed to be sure we had a plan in place to designate guardians of our kids as they grow up. You can make this designation in your will or in a stand alone guardian declaration. No matter how you do it, it’s important to be sure this designation is included in any estate plan that you prepare so you can rest easy knowing your kids are in good hands. It’s truly one of the greatest gifts you can leave behind for them.
- I want to be sure my kids are not raised by a certain family member. Is there a way to make my wishes known?
This one is a lot like question 9, but the reverse. In a lot of families, there’s a certain person who we know would want to raise our kids but would not be a good fit for the job. It feels extreme, but talk to your attorney if you have a concern like this. There are actually ways to record a disqualification of guardian so you can make your wishes known even after you’re gone.
The above 10 questions are some of the most common things I hear from my clients when they are planning their wills and trusts. We hope that if you come work with us
for your estate planning needs, you’ll feel comfortable telling us what your main concern is, and what you hope your plan will achieve.