By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
September 15, 2015
Don’t Just Assume Your Kids Will Want All Their Inheritance
As an estate planning attorney, I’ve seen far too many completely preventable complications and hardships arise due to lack of communication between families.
Talking to your loved ones about your estate plan may seem like a fairly simple—albeit sensitive—move, but it is one of the most important strategies for ensuring your estate is handled smoothly and your wishes are honored.
Today, I wanted to talk to you about an especially crucial piece of your family’s estate planning conversation—talking to beneficiaries about their inheritance. Too often, individuals leave property and assets that their designated beneficiaries cannot care for, are uncertain what to do with, or simply do not want.
To illustrate the complications this could cause, I’d like to tell you about the experience of the Latour family.
An Unwanted Inheritance
Walter Latour prided himself as a man who had built himself up from humble origins. As the oldest of six, he hadn’t had many luxuries growing up, and was expected to get a job as soon as he was old enough to help his parents support the rest of the family. Walter didn’t let his work duties as an assistant at the local animal conservation center affect his school work, however, and was accepted into the business program at a top university after graduating from high school. To pay for his tuition, Walter worked nearly full-time as a ranger at a local park, and still managed to earn top marks.
After finishing up at a university, Walter went on to open up a fitness center in Florida. The gym was a great success, and quickly expanded to branches across the state, and, soon after, the country. Thanks to Walter’s business talents and relentless work ethic, the company was able to thrive—and so was Walter.
At age 55, Walter certainly had a lot to be proud of. He had married his college sweetheart, Melissa, and raised an intelligent and handsome son, Gavin. He gave generously to local charities, favoring environmental rights and wilderness protection groups. He also owned a sprawling seaside mansion in Florida, along with three cars and a sleek sailboat.
But the true apple of Walter’s eye was his vacation home up in Michigan. Walter had built the stately lodge himself in the heart of the forest, and invested substantial time and resources into its upkeep and renovations over the years. When business life grew stressful, Walter would fly up to Michigan and retreat to the sanctuary of the lodge with his wife and son. He loved nothing more than spending his afternoons hiking through the forest, fishing in the lake, and tending to the grounds, reveling in the solitude and cool Michigan air.
Walter’s wife, Melissa, passed away not long after his 60th birthday, and he updated his estate plan with a heavy heart. He didn’t give the adjustment much thought. His son, Gavin, seemed the natural choice to receive as his inheritance the bulk of the family estate, including the Latours’ Florida and Michigan homes.
Walter didn’t even think to consult with Gavin about his decision. After all, who wouldn’t want a beautiful home in the Michigan woods? Walter pictured the Michigan lodge passing down to generations of Latours: Gavin would teach his son to fish, chop lumber, and care for the property as Walter had taught him. He envisioned Gavin’s son would do the same for his son, and so on and so forth.
Gavin was grief-stricken when his father died suddenly during the night. He was overwhelmed by all the assets and property he had received as part of his inheritance so suddenly, particularly the Michigan lodge. Gavin had never taken to the great outdoors as his father had. He remained a beach boy through and through despite his dad’s best efforts to instill in him a love of the wilderness. Gavin was married, but he had no plans to have children. Consequently, the two houses was definitely more than he needed.
Nevertheless, Gavin accepted his inheritance and moved into his father’s sprawling Florida home. However, he sold the Michigan lodge to a realty company before visiting the property even once. The company tore the home down and used the land to build a sleek and fancy resort and spa. Walter would have been crushed had he known this would happen, and regretful had he known he could have prevented it.
How an Estate Planning Conversation Could Have Helped
While Gavin may have seemed the most obvious choice to receive as his inheritance his family lodge, he wasn’t necessarily the best one. Had Walter taken the time to talk to Gavin about his estate plan, Gavin would have had a chance to express his disinterest in receiving the lodge as his inheritance.
With this in mind, Walter could have gifted the lodge to one of the environmental protection organizations he cared about. Not only would his gift have gone to those who would honor and appreciate it, it would have been protected from the clutches of indifferent external parties whose intentions did not align with his.
When it comes to estate planning, having an open and honest discussion with your beneficiaries is one of the best ways to make sure your wishes are respected. Talking to your beneficiaries clarifies your intentions and gives them a chance to speak their mind—you may learn that the belongings or property you assumed they’d welcome would actually be burdensome or undesired.
Your estate planning attorney may be able to serve as a mediator during these important discussions, providing legal guidance and suggesting solutions. With the counsel of an attorney, you can conduct the conversation with both professionalism and sensitivity, and in a way that ensures your wishes are understood.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose
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