Not to be rude, but just imagine, only for the short
time that it takes you to read this page, that it's many
years from now and, after a long, full, fruitful life,
and with your devoted family and friends gathered
around, you pass away peacefully in your sleep.
Now, from on high, just a few rungs below the right
hand of God, you look down on loved ones left
behind. You see your family gathered in an
attorney's office. The attorney is going over the
details of who will inherit the wealth that you
labored so diligently to build. You wanted to pass
this estate on to your most cherished heirs - perhaps
your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, your
favorite charities'so that they might have better
opportunities in this increasingly competitive world
and might themselves live long and comfortable
lives or help others to do so.
Congratulations, or Remorse?
What do you see? Is everyone getting the inheritance
you wanted? If so, congratulations! You diligently
and recently prepared, with the help of your tax
advisor, attorney, and financial advisor, for your
estate to pass safely through the tangled tax and
regulatory mazes that too often derail the best laid
plans and intentions of the recently departed.
Equally important, you may rest assured that those
you love the most will continue on without you, but
with every bit of financial help you could give them.
If you are not one of the well-prepared, then
consider for a moment what could happen to your
wealth. Have you recently updated the beneficiary
designations on your 401(k)s, IRAs, and similar
retirement plans? If not, then its possible that this
part of your estate will not go to those you wish,
and this may be true even if you have prepared a
trust and a will. If you have updated the appropriate
documents, beneficiaries may nevertheless
unintentionally make mistakes after your passing that
could result in the loss of most of the potential
wealth these plans offer. For many people, their
retirement plans are the largest part of their estate. It
makes sense to get the details right.
Have you recently updated your will or trust, or
considered whether you need a trust? Without these,
you will likely not be the one deciding who inherits
what. Instead, your state government will decide.
You wanted your children from your first marriage
to get a substantial portion of your estate? Sorry.
Your last spouse gets it instead. When he dies, it
might then go to his children, one of whom has
repeatedly squandered his opportunities and proved
incompetent in handling his financial affairs.
We're almost at the end of this page, and there is just
one last thing. What if instead of dying peacefully in
your sleep decades from now, you are unfortunately
the victim of a terrible accident'tomorrow' Again,
not to be rude, but from your perch on high, are you
looking down on the distribution of your wealth as
It's a Pain
Getting these disparate inheritance problems taken
care of is, to put it bluntly, a big pain in the butt.
And what makes it harder, these preparations offer
not one benefit to you. You'll be gone. It will be
your heirs who benefit from your preparation or
suffer from your lack of it.
Do your most cherished heirs a favor - do it now -
and improve your changes that they remember you
fondly. Make sure these final details are in order
should you pass away tomorrow or in 30,000
tomorrows. As Lyle Lovett reminds us: "Life is so
uncertain." One approach is to imagine that you are
now dead, find out exactly what that means to your
heirs, then make any changes desired.