Obviously, the most common estate plan is fairly simple. First, the spouse inherits everything. Then contingently, the assets are divided among the children often per stirpes. After that, most people turn to their siblings, parents, nieces and nephews, or godchildren.
However, when family inheriting is not an option or you are not all that close with your relatives, sometimes it can be trickier to decide where to leave your estate.
There is no right or wrong decision in estate planning. There are only your wishes. This is a list for inspiration to see if anything excites you.
Although you will be by definition dead when these wishes are implemented, your estate plan will create a legacy in the world that could knit your social circle together or tear them apart. It is important to take the time to plan what your impact will be.
After your own family, the first idea everyone will give you is charity. When you don’t have family, everyone thinks of the needy. I have to mention this idea out of thoroughness, but you have likely already thought of it.
If you do decide to leave your estate to charity, you may consider utilizing a Testamentary Donor Advised Fund. There are at least three advantages of a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) in this case.
First, if you ever change your mind, changing which charities receive the funds is simple. With a Donor Advised Fund, free paperwork can be utilized to implement the changes rather than more estate attorney fees.
Second, it is easy for your executor. Once the assets are given to the fund, the DAF’s custodian will handle the liquidation and valuation of the assets, contacting the charities, and gifting the cash. Much easier for your executor.
Third, you can optionally designate contingent directors. So, for example, you can leave the assets to charity via the fund but let your good friend be a director and decide which charity receives the funds. This could be a way to honor an important person in the estate without leaving them a pile of money.
Friends or Colleagues
Sometimes people are afraid to leave assets to people in their social circle. What will they think of me when they find out I had money? It is a common fear. Try putting yourself in their shoes. Imagine that an executor of your late co-worker’s estate came to inform you that he or she left your family a large sum. You’d be grateful and honored. I can’t imagine many who would think poorly of the deceased.
Along those lines, you could look among your social circle for where your money would have the most impact and leave it there. For example, you might know someone where inheritance would change their life. You don’t have to leave your whole estate to them. You can leave any percentage or dollar amount you want.
If you have pets, you can set up a trust that will pay for the lifetime care of your animal family members. This dowry can follow your animal into their next home and give their new owners financial compensation and the means to give your beloved animal great care. Caring for your voiceless loved ones is a noble goal.
This type of trust is best set up with an estate attorney. Many estate attorneys are used to creating cookie-cutter estate plans, but this kind of trust will be more complicated and require their expertise. Make sure the attorney is a good match. Can they design a plan where a person can’t accept your animal to pocket the extra funds and then ditch them? Do they put in place any trustee provisions, such as a trust protector, to help ensure your wishes are followed? It is important the legal protection is there for your trust for the same reason you should never lend to family without a contract: it makes clear what both parties should expect and what they have agreed to do.
Places, Activities, or Services You Loved
Did you enjoy a local sporting league such as soccer, basketball, horseback riding, or dance? Have a local restaurant, coffee shop, or winery that you loved? Did you enjoy any conferences, conventions, or niche hobby stores? Got a favorite author, poet, artist, publisher, or blogger? What about a beloved teacher, household worker, or medical provider? You could consider supporting them with your estate!
These could all be great and legitimate places to leave part of your estate. You could leave the funds to a named individual, an organization, or by reference to a person whose name you don’t know. You could leave the funds outright or indirectly in an endowment. You don’t need to have a personal connection with someone to leave them money. You simply need to leave the assets using a designation that denotes a clear intended recipient. That being said, the more information you provide, the easier it will be for your executor to find them.
You can write a trust to do anything. For example, you could create a trust to:
- Gift scholarships for students to attend a school, college, retreat, conference, club membership, etc.
- Give aid to refugees, self-emancipated minors, foster children, battered women, homeless, etc.
- Support one vocation’s employee expenses such as school teachers and educators.
- Grant your assets to support start-up businesses, first home purchases, weddings, medical bills, etc.
When setting up a trust like this, the hardest part is picking the trustee. If you don’t have many people you want to leave assets to, then you likely don’t have many people you’d trust running your legacy trust.
Luckily, there are several professional trustees. Just make sure your trust has a trust protector set up. A trust protector is someone who can fire the trustee if they are not following the wishes of the document and hire a new one in their place.
I hope that these ideas help you feel inspired for what your money can do. When you are developing your estate plan, it is also a great time to think about what your life plan is. What is the money for? Finding the answer to where your assets go when you die may also help you find some answers about what you want to do with your wealth while you are still alive.
Photo by Nicolette Meade on Unsplash