Sunday, March 23, 2008

Planning for the future: wills and trusts

One of my goals for this year is to put together a will. An unexpected (but completely treatable) health issue gave me extra prompting to get this done. I got as far as organizing my relevant financial paperwork, completing my taxes and designating beneficiaries for accounts that allow me to do so, but I have no will in place. My plan was to look into doing it myself (I am single and my estate is small), but I began to realize that if I was concerned about how some of my beneficiaries might spend the money, I would have to look into a trust. Now we have reached the end of my knowledge so I need to read more and possibly find a good lawyer to set up my will and trust as I want it.

However, this has prompted me to have a conversation with my mom about the will her and my dad have. I have known since I was young that they have a will and was given some minimal information about the contents (e.g., in case of death, care of all the children would pass to my mom's sister). However, my friend W. has told me some less-than-happy stories about his parent's family fighting over who gets what physical item from a parent's estate (e.g., grandfather clock or antique dresser), the resentment over the share of the estate and anger toward the executor who happens to be a relative.

In thinking about what my parents own, I realize there are several antiques that my mom has bought, refinished and used in their home to great effect. In fact, I keep an eye out for similar items like the antique commode (sans towel bar) for my own use in my home. It is a great piece and I would like to have one in my living room. But when Mom and Dad pass (assuming I still want the item), am I going to be fighting with my siblings over who gets which piece? My friend W. says the distribution of his deceased grandmother's estate has caused such hard feelings, family gatherings are a thing of the past. I do not want to resent my siblings for claiming more of my parent's belongings just because they have kids and have more people that can consume the items (e.g., J. is getting his first apartment and needs the table, chairs, dresser and bed frame). We are all human, we covet things and can be nasty in the pursuit of them.

This is all just speculation and maybe we would be a cooperative family and have few to no conflicts when deciding which items to choose. Plus, I am likely to be in my 60s when my parents pass and what I want now and what I want then are two different things. But talking to my mom and telling her my concerns for possessions did make me feel better. I know my parents have to update their will as my brother will be buying the farm from them in the future, thus needing to figure out how to distribute a liquid estate when much of the wealth is tied to land, buildings and machinery. In addition, there were no grandchildren when the last will was written over ten years ago. Therefore, an update would be prudent.

Mom explained that distribution of physical items on an item-by-item basis was not the function of a will, but I thought she said that their could be conditions or a listing that would be opened at the same time the will is read to deal with furniture disputes, for example. I hope our discussion prompts Mom and Dad to think about this and plan for it so the single person does not feel like she loses in the face of her siblings' families just by sheer numbers.

There is a class I plan to take at the local university that will get me started on my will and trust planning. I am looking forward to getting my estate in order and setting up the legal documents I need to take care of my family and any charitable donations in the future. I certainly need more information before moving forward, but I should have a will and even a trust in place by the end of this year.

No comments:

Post a Comment