You’ve spent a lifetime building the best life possible for your family. You’ve worked hard. You’ve saved. You’ve followed all of the rules. And it is important to you that when you are no longer here, all of the hard work you’ve done is respected, and your estate is managed according to your wishes.

Of course we all hope that our family will work together to make sure our wishes are carried out. But the way we want things to happen, and the way they actually turn out are rarely the same. That’s why the estate attorneys at the Women & Children’s Law Center advise our clients on the best ways to make sure their estates are handled according to their wishes, and why we work so hard to educate our clients so that they understand the implications of their decisions.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of families torn apart by fights over money, property, and possessions after the death of a loved done. None of us likes to think that our family could behave so badly. Estate planning can help make sure you don’t put your family in a position where they are at risk of ruining relationships. You have the power to make that difference in their lives.

Your Estate Executor

Who will administer your estate when you are gone? People often don’t give much critical thought to this decision. That can be a big mistake. We recommend that you don’t just choose the eldest child, or the child that is living closest to you. Using such arbitrary criteria isn’t in anyone’s best interest. And we strongly recommend against assigning co-executors because you are afraid someone’s feelings will be hurt.

It all comes back to the fact that you just can’t know how people will behave. If you have two children and make them co-executors, but one of them has financial problems, a strong personality, or a spouse that calls the shots in their family, you may be setting your children up for hurt feelings and arguments, a lifetime of resentments, or even a permanently shattered relationship.

Work with an attorney to choose your executor. They can help you understand the role your executor plays, the skills they need, and any possible conflicts of interest that may impact their decision making. If you don’t have a family member who is a suitable executor, a trusted attorney or an advisor with no financial or emotional attachment to your estate, may be a good choice.

Your Estate And Charitable Giving

Many of us have volunteered our time or given some of our hard-earned money to charities we believe in. One of the most meaningful ways you can give to charitable organizations is to include them in the distribution of your assets.

There are a lot of ways to give to charity upon your death. Speak with an attorney to learn all of the facts and to determine what is the best choice for you.

Charitable trusts allow you to provide income to your loved ones and a future gift to your charity of choice.

A private foundation, managed by trustees or directors that you choose, allow for the most flexibility. They are very complex to set up correctly and require the help of an attorney with experience in the field.

Life insurance is also a way to provide a gift to a charitable organization. It is often overlooked, but can be an excellent way to give during your lifetime and after your death. There are also significant hidden benefits for charities. It is important to speak with an attorney about any tax implications related to using life insurance as a method of charitable giving.

Whichever option you choose, it is helpful for the charitable organization you choose to know what plans you’ve made for future donations. Be sure to let them know of your intentions. They’ll be grateful that you did.

Your Estate And Young Children

For parents of young children, the most important first step to estate planning is to have a will. Your will clearly states who should care for your children if you and your spouse were to both pass away. While this is very unlikely to occur, it is too important to overlook. Your child’s guardian should be your choice, not the choice of a judge.

If your choice for a guardian is a friend, rather than a family member, this makes a will even more important. In the absence of any direction from you, a judge is most likely to look first for family members to care for your children.

When you have young children, there are some other estate planning basics that should not be overlooked. Life insurance is important for ensuring that your children are cared for and that your family can continue to follow their dreams in the case of your death, and the loss of your income. A living will makes your end-of-life wishes known so your spouse doesn’t have to take on the added stress of making those choices for you, and can focus on providing for the needs of your family. If you and your spouse have separate assets, a durable power of attorney may be necessary to ensure that your assets pass directly to them without delay. Check with your attorney to make sure you’ve got all of the appropriate paperwork on file.

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Your Estate and Inheritance

There are almost unlimited options for how you can structure inheritance for children and other loved ones. You can distribute assets evenly in a one-time bulk sum, or  you may choose to structure the inheritance for a particular beneficiary differently than for others.

If you have an adult child with special physical, mental or emotional needs, you may choose to structure their inheritance so that they receive a set income every year. Making these hard choices in advance is a gift you can give to your family, especially any family members with special needs.

If your family dynamics are complicated, as so many of ours are these days, it is even more important to make your wishes regarding inheritance known. There is a lot to consider. Is this your second marriage? How will your assets be distributed to your spouse’s children from a previous marriage, to your children from multiple marriages? These issues can be difficult to discuss, even with your spouse. Don’t neglect having the discussion. An experienced estate attorney can help mediate these discussions and ensure that assets are distributed according to your wishes.

While this article may seem to be a pretty indepth look at estate planning, it only skims the surface. Estate planning is a very complicated issue financially, legally, and emotionally. It should not be undertaken without professional help. Call us here at the Women and Children’s Law Center. We’re here to help.