When I work with clients, I see so many different family types and not everyone has the same needs. There are some generalities that I use to guide what plans the different type of families need. For instance, I think most families with minor children need a trust. However, even then, not all clients fall into those generalities. That’s why it’s so important to evaluate each family’s need individually through a consultation. However, even at the end of the consultation, I think it’s extremely important for a client to understand and choose their own estate plan. Part of this is understanding the documents and how they work, which I’ve explained many times. But another large part of choosing the right estate plan is knowing the different considerations that go into the plan.
One of my first questions when sitting with a new client is always about their family and who we’re planning for. The more complicated a family is (i.e. step-children, half-siblings, etc) the more likely a trust or a more complicated plan will be needed to ensure things go where they are intended. Missouri law only provides for a very traditional family and even then isn’t often what clients would want. Thus, legal documents are needed to change these “default” laws and the more certainty a client needs of where assets will go, the more complicated the documents get. It’s also important to know if there is anyone who would potentially challenge a plan.
But the biggest question and concern for me is if there is a need for control. This normally applies because there are minor children who cannot legally handle money for themselves. However, if there’s a beneficiary who just makes bad financial decisions or has a substance abuse problem a trust might also be necessary. There’s also a limited ability to keep spouses or in-laws away from a plan if they could potentially cause problems through a divorce or other issues.
Finally, assets also are an important part of deciding a plan. If there are extremely limited resources, it’s hard to justify the expense of a more complicated plan, but it might also be worth it if any of the above are concerns. However, the type and location of assets also may make a trust worth it or not. For instance, with real estate anyone listed on a beneficiary deed plus their current spouse must sign on any sale of that real estate. That can cause major problems if there are multiple people involved and not all work together. The need for one person to make decisions on real estate may be enough to justify a trust. However, on the other hand, if most of the assets are liquid (retirement money, bank accounts, etc.) and it’s simply a matter of dividing money, then a trust might be overly complicated.
There are so many factors that go into what kind of plan fits a family. However, the more you know about the process and why a particular plan might be right, the better decision you can make for your loved ones.