Estate planning does not need to be simply about passing on the wealth you have accumulated during your life to your heirs. As Black Friday reminds us, this season is often marked by obsessive shopping and consumerism. It is easy to think of the next month as simply a time for buying. However, during the next month there are a number of religious and cultural holidays that remind us of great struggles and great joy. For many, the reason for the season is deeper than an opportunity to give gifts to their family and friends; it is meant to appreciate the holidays themselves.
Similarly, estate planning does not need to be simply about dividing up assets. Instead, you may pass your estate with purpose and with the idea of keeping your values intact. One common estate planning tool is to allow funds held in trust to be used for college tuition. By keeping funds in control of the trustee, you can ensure that your heirs have access to higher education, but not to the money itself. Similarly, a higher percentage of the estate might be distributed upon graduation, giving the heirs faster access than if they forego a college education. Doing so encourages your heirs to attend college.
Although college is a common goal included in estate plans, people have included many contingencies that must be met before an inheritance may be received. In 2000, in the midst of his vice presidential bid, former Senator Joseph Lieberman was involved in a public scandal in his role as executor of a Will requiring the decedent’s children to marry people of Jewish birth and faith. Two of the decedent’s children were disinherited as a result of this requirement. The parties ultimately settled based on evidence that the decedent had softened his approach in later years, but did not execute his later Will. Provisions created to enforce religious observance, scholastic performance, and other overly restrictive contingencies may be unenforceable. If certain conditions are very important to you, ensuring that the clauses creating the restrictive provisions are carefully written and explained is vital to their enforceability in court.
You may also wish to donate a portion of your estate to a charitable or religious organization that promotes your purpose. Many organizations will allow you to direct that your gift is used for a specific purpose or program. For example, if you have a child who is afflicted with addiction, you might condition his inheritance on sobriety and, as a backup beneficiary, direct that the funds be used at a treatment facility for treatment of that particular addiction. Additionally, you can designate gifts with a purpose to organizations as a primary beneficiary in order to ensure that a portion of your estate is used toward a cause about which you feel strongly. It is important to remember that you do not have to designate your beneficiaries in any particular manner; it is completely your decision. If your values or religious beliefs prompt you to want to create contingencies for gifts after death, it is possible to pass on your values with the rest of your estate!
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