When asked how people want their assets divided after they are gone, some people have definite opinions, while others are less certain.
Not only do people differ in the level of their uncertainty concerning how to divvy up their assets, they even differ in what factors are important in making the decision.
In June 2007, Money magazine released a reader poll concerning various financial issues. The following percentages of respondents ranked each factor as very important:
.Dividing the estate equally among your children: 69 percent.
.How responsible each child is about money: 37 percent.
.How helpful each child has been to you: 29 percent.
.How close you are to each child: 22 percent.
.How much money each child has: 22 percent.
.How many children each child has: 19 percent.
.How much you like each child's spouse: 10 percent.
. Thirty-seven percent said it can be reasonable to disinherit a child.
Another item of indecision for many people is the choice of decision makers: Trustee, personal representative, guardian, and agents under powers of attorney.
For each of these positions, it is important to name people whose decision-making ability you trust. You may be tempted to name all your children or siblings to avoid hurting anyone's feelings.
However, naming a large number of people to serve together in the same role invites family disharmony and chaos.
For example, if property in the trust is to be sold and you have seven trustees, many of whom may be out of town, it would be a logistical nightmare to route paperwork all around the country.
Typically, things work more smoothly if you limit the number of people in any given role. Besides, having a job thrust upon them may be something many would just as soon avoid.
Regardless of what factors are important to you, a qualified estate-planning attorney can help you achieve your goals.
For example, if you are concerned about your child's ability to manage finances, the money can be left in a trust which will prevent him or her from accessing the funds without the permission of a person whom you designate, the trustee.
If you do not like your child's spouse and are concerned he or she might divorce your child and take some of the inheritance you leave your child, you can leave your assets in a "divorce protection trust."
Such a trust keeps the assets separate from marital assets. Therefore, it minimizes the risk of the assets ending up in the hands of the child's future ex-spouse.
A qualified estate-planning attorney can help you achieve your goals while paving the way for your family's continued success and harmony after you are gone.
Robert J. Kulas is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been engaged in the practice of law in Florida for the last 23 years. For more information or to attend an upcoming seminar, call (772) 398-0720.