For most people, estate planning is a fairly straight-forward process. You schedule an appointment with your attorney, she prepares your documents, and you come in again to sign them. And in most cases, there are few, if any, difficult decisions to make. For married folks with adult children, estate planning is usually a “no-brainer”: simple “I-love-you” wills that leave everything to your spouse, if living, otherwise in equal shares to your children.
For others, however, the estate planning process can involve a lot more decision making and in some cases significantly greater amounts of work. For example, couples and single individuals without children often wrestle with an appropriate way to distribute their wealth, particularly if their estates are large and there are no immediate family members.
Parents of minor children also have a myriad of difficult decisions to make when planning their estates. In addition to the complexities of setting up a trust to provide for money management for their minor children – and all of the decisions that this entails – these parents face the often difficult decision of naming a guardian for their minor children in the event of their deaths. I advise these parents to consult with their preferred guardian in advance to ensure that the individual (or couple) named would be willing to assume this responsibility. I also advise them to name a backup guardian in case their first choice guardian is not willing or able to take on the responsibility at the time of their deaths.
For individuals who are charitably inclined, the formulation of an appropriate charitable bequest may involve considerable thought and planning, as well as communications with the intended charitable beneficiary or the involvement of a community foundation in establishing a donor advised fund.
For the aging parent(s) of a disabled adult child, estate planning may involve far more than just setting up a special needs trust to assure their child’s on-going eligibility for government benefits. If the disabled adult child is still living at home with their parent(s), it may be advisable to make appropriate living arrangements for the child while the parent is still alive and healthy enough to fully investigate appropriate options and transition the disabled child into a new, suitable living environment. Such arrangements should not be “dumped” into the lap of an Executor or Administrator, who will already have their hands full with the administration of an estate. Rather, it is the parent’s responsibility to assure that appropriate arrangements are made so that the transition to a group home or other suitable living arrangement will be less traumatic for their disabled child.
Similarly, people who have pets should make arrangements for their ongoing care as a part of their estate planning process. This is particularly true for individuals who have a large number of pets or pets that require special care. For example, one of my clients – an older single lady with no children or other close family members — maintained over one hundred doves in an aviary on her property, in addition to a number of ducks and geese and other wild birds, which she kept in her house. When she consulted me about preparing her will, she asked me to include a provision in her will requesting her Executor to find appropriate homes for all of her birds. I tried to explain to her that this was just too great a burden to place on her Executor, who would already have his hands full trying to settle her estate. I explained that it was her responsibility – and hers alone – to investigate organizations, or individuals, that would be willing to accommodate some or all of her feathered friends at the time of her death.
Of course, all estate planning attorneys may not be as frank with their clients, especially if they face the loss of a potential fee-paying client. But good, conscientious estate planning attorneys will tell their clients what they need to hear, even if it is not what they want to hear.
Willi Law Office, LLC has been providing personalized legal services to individuals and businesses in Westerville and Central Ohio for over 20 years.