Building a United Front for Your Estate Plan
As many parents know, it can be helpful to present a united front. But the same rule of thumb applies to any married couple tackling estate planning together: no matter who your heirs, making sure you’re on the same page can be a critical part of preserving what you’ve built and creating the legacy you want.
The three areas that tend to be most critical? Communication, kids, and inheritance. Read on for our advice on tackling all three.
Keeping up communication
The critical starting point is communication: of course, that’s easier said than done. Financial matters can bring a lot of emotion, including old hurts and even childhood fears. But being open about estate planning issues and finding ways to agree is critical to the resilience of your estate plan – not to mention your feelings of comfort and security in the future.
A few tips that can help foster productive agreements:
- Try to build your conversation around concrete questions rather than general topics
- Keep yourselves open to setting an issue aside for a while to give yourself space to think
- Try to identify your feelings and pain points on different subjects
- Remember that it’s okay if your partner vetoes an idea – generally speaking, you’ll be able to come to an agreement on another option
For example, when considering the issue of guardianship for their young children, our clients Sandra and Nick were struggling.
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Sandra says, “I didn’t like the way his sister ran their house, and Nick didn’t like that my brothers are all far away. We kept butting heads – and it kept becoming about way more than our kids.”
Nick agreed. “What started as an estate planning process turned into a referendum on our family relations, holiday plans, anything and everything. It was a mess.”
Working with their estate attorney and Vitucci & Associates advisor, Sandra and Nick were able to regroup. “We started by talking about what was most important to us as parents,” Sandra says, “Stuff like schooling, religion, time and attention, and the ability to raise our kids with the values we care about.”
In the end, the decision became easy: with all the key factors laid out, Nick and Sandra realized that they already had a perfect solution: Nick’s closest friend from childhood, who with his wife embodied many of the same childrearing values that Sandra and Nick cared most about. They talked it over at length with their friends, and feel much more secure about it today.
“We assumed that we needed to ‘use’ a family member, but going through it this way made us realize that we had way more options than we’d considered,” says Nick.
Children and guardianship
Sandra and Nick’s experience touches on one of the most sensitive parts of estate planning: children. When it comes to guardianship, there is a lot of emotion that can inform the process, not to mention fear about the future and feelings about family members!
But this is one of the single biggest decisions that you can make in your estate plan. While the hope is that you’ll never need to use it, obviously the choice of who would raise your children in your absence is important on a number of levels.
As with the example above, we recommend identifying a few key factors before reviewing the “who” part of the equation: it can help simplify the process and take some of the emotion out of it.
A few issues you may want to consider:
- Basic values: Depending on what’s most important to you, this can include a full range of areas, such as religious views, moral and ethical norms, views on gender and identity, public service and philanthropy, and education.
- Lifestyle and location: Will your child be able to fit in harmoniously without too many changes to their schedule and lifestyle?
- Resources: While many parents choose to invest in life insurance for their children’s future, raising kids does require time, energy, and financial resilience to achieve – are your potential guardians prepared?
Identifying your core needs with respect to your children can help guide you towards a decision that “feels right” for you and your spouse.
Inheritance can be a tricky issue, especially where there are young kids, wayward kids, or kids from previous marriages and relationships. Even for the very most “traditional” nuclear families, making decisions about how to manage inheritance can be complicated!
However, this makes it all the more important to get on the same page with your spouse: as many parents know, presenting a united front is the single best way to shut down debate and conflict.
We recommend talking through the following issues:
- What are your core needs – together and for each other? If one spouse passes away first, what can you do to help shore up the other’s long-term financial security?
- What are your areas of separate property, and how do you want to manage and distribute them in the future? For example, if one spouse has trust assets that can only be distributed to children.
- Who should inherit? Your list might include your children, grandchildren, other family members and loved ones, or charities. By listing out the people and causes you want to support, you’ll be better able to put together a plan that works for both of you.
- Are there any worries you have about inheritance? These can include personal fears around a spouse’s possible remarriage, whether a child can handle a large lump-sum inheritance, or concerns about financial security if widowed.
Putting this information on the table alongside your preferences and concerns can help you start working towards a plan. Just remember, you don’t have to have all the answers. By identifying your individual and joint priorities, you can build the foundation for a productive conversation with your estate attorney, who should be able to guide you to appropriate solutions.
Once the plan is made, we also recommend sharing it as a couple: this can be especially important if one of your heirs is going to be surprised by the outcome of your plan!
Take your united front even further
If you’re like most families, you probably have a whole host of other questions and concerns about legacy and the future. We recommend Keeping the Whole Family on Track our multi-gen planning guide for those looking to balance priorities and set up their families for the long-haul.
Find out more by downloading Keeping the Whole Family on Track for free today!
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