When you think of leaving a legacy, what do you think of? The inheritance that you would like to pass on to your children? A gift to your family’s church or your favorite charity that will continue on past your life time? Perhaps the successful transfer of a family business to the next generation? Most importantly, you may think of the transfer of the family values and work ethic that have helped you become successful during your lifetime. Although you may key in on one of these particular elements of your legacy depending on your circumstances, I encourage all of my clients to look at the idea of legacy planning in a broader sense when we are discussing the legal documents they will need for their estate planning and business planning. This blog discusses same general aspects of planning that you need to consider when drafting the legal documents you need to leave the legacy you want.
First, you need to look at the financial side of things. What do you currently own? How do you currently own it? Finally, if something happened to you, who would you want to receive it? If you are married, you most likely want to leave it your surviving spouse and then to your children after the second spouse passes. This plan makes sense in general, but there are few additional nuances that you need to look at when thinking through your plan. First, if this is not a first marriage situation, you may want to create a trust that divides your trust in two trusts at the first spouse’s death, with a portion of the trust being irrevocable at the first spouses’ death. In this way, the children of the first spouse to die will be protected by an irrevocable trust if something happens to that spouse. In addition, it is important to ask a few more questions about the children to determine how best to structure distributions to them. Are the children minors or young adults? Are they responsible with managing their money? Do they have any drug, alcohol, mental health, or other issues that would make an outright distribution an issue for them? Thus, the question of “how” the distributions occur is critical. Finally, although equal distributions to the children is generally the best way to go to avoid family conflict, clients are welcome to choose other options. They just need to be fully informed about the possible consequences of doing so.
Second, sometimes leaving a legacy can mean the impact that you leave in your community, especially through a gift to your family’s church or your favorite charity. All of us have a certain causes that we care deeply about and are currently supporting. It could be a charity that helps the sick or the poor, one that provides scholarships for education, or one that supports another important cause that you are passionate about. Whatever your passion is, leaving a legacy can mean supporting that organization with you time, talents, and treasure even after you have passed on.
Third, when a family business is involved, and the family wants to pass on the business to the next generation, there are a whole host of other issues that need to be addressed. Who is in the best position to run the business after the founders retire? How can Mom and Dad create an equitable distribution plan when some of the children work in the business and others do not?
Finally, and most importantly, leaving a legacy can mean leaving a legacy of your life, such as your values, your goals, and your vision for the next generation. This piece of your legacy is more introspective and is also the most important in many ways, even though the documents that are drafted do not cover these issues in the same amount of detail. How do you want your children and your family to remember you? What can you do during your life to pass on those values that are so important to you? How can you document the values in your estate planning and your business planning documents in a practical way?
Although you will need to do some interior work on your own to define what your legacy will be given your circumstances, an experienced estate planning and business planning attorney can help you to draft the legal documents need to leave the legacy you want.
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Our firm has helped hundreds of families just like yours handle a wide variety of estate planning, business planning, probate, trust, and elder law issues. When families or business owners are not getting along, we can also handle any disputes and litigation related to their businesses, wills, trusts, guardianships, or conservatorships. Please give me a call, so that I can help you work through these difficult issues with confidence.