Good Intentions Make Terrible Estate Plans

Say you and your spouse are both in a second marriage. You’ve each got adult children from previous marriages. The kids are all adults, on their own, doing fine. Everybody gets along fine.

So, your plan is to leave everything to your spouse after you’re gone and vice versa. Then when the second one of you is gone, the kids will get everything more or less equally. That’s what your wills say.

I see plans like this all the time. This kind of estate planning is loving, it’s well-prioritized, it’s simple…and potentially disastrous.

I’ve got no issues with what you intend to do, nor with the intentions of everyone else involved. But good intentions have a way of diminishing over time and under stress.

Your children are grown. You gave them a great home and an upbringing that’s now bearing the fruit of stability and independence in their own lives as they start their own families. And you want to be sure that your spouse is taken care of if you pass first.

But your good-hearted intentions are no guarantee that those intentions will be followed. So, consider just a few things that could prevent your intentions from becoming reality.

Lawsuit. I’ve had more than one widow in my office whose husband died as a result of an accident. In one case that I recall, the fault of the accident was clearly the deceased husband’s, who had died in that accident. Imagine losing your spouse to an accident, and then being sued for his or her causing the accident!

If you simply leave everything of yours to your spouse, those assets may be vulnerable in the event of a lawsuit.

Next spouse. People have been known to get married after the death of a spouse. You may swear up and down that you won’t, but…remember my earlier comments about good intentions. If you or your spouse remarries, will they then leave “everything” to that next spouse? Well maybe. But isn’t “maybe” a problem? Do you really want someone that you’ve never met to inherit what you and your spouse have built together?

Future outlaw. Your adult children are all getting along well now, and that is great. But have you ever known of couples that divorce after 20 or 30 years of marriage? I’ve got a whole list of them. And after you and your spouse are gone, do you want to leave your life’s wealth to your children, who might then have to split it with a spouse that splits?

Financial rookie. I’ve got no idea if this caution fits your situation or not. Many couples have one spouse who “handles the money” and the other has little or no interest in financial matters. I’ve seen plenty of examples both ways – sometimes the wife calls all the financial shots. Other times, that role is assumed by the husband.

If your marriage works like that, do you want your spouse to find out that his or her first year of widowhood is also his or her rookie year as the financial manager of the family wealth?

These are only things to spark your thinking. I am not an attorney and I surely do not give legal advice. You need to talk to an experienced, qualified attorney concerning all of these legal and estate matters.

An attorney may suggest the use of certain types of trusts or ownership arrangements or management agreements made ahead of time to address the specifics of your own situation. You won’t know any of that until you speak with an attorney.

Your good intentions are a wonderful motivator. They’re a great place to start. Just don’t stop there. Make sure that there are structures in place to carry out once you’re gone what you so nobly intend while you’re alive.

Otherwise, your good intentions might die when you do.

Offering you Wisdom on Wealth, I’m Byron Moore.

Argent Advisors, Inc. is an SEC-registered investment adviser. A copy of our current written disclosure statement discussing our advisory services and fees is available upon request. Please See Important Disclosure Information here.

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