What are your alternatives? When your children were little, all you had to do was split the cookie equally, and a problem was solved. It’s not that easy now.

How to distribute assets to children with different needs and histories while trying to be even-handed can be a vexing problem. Some parents, unable to find a “perfect” solution, will continuously delay making a plan or never create one, letting the State of California’s intestacy laws determine who gets what. That will result in each child getting an equal share, which doesn’t solve the potential problem of one child feeling resentful in relation to siblings.

This Is Where Our Vast Years of Experience As Professional

“Counselors” Can Help

Most people think our job, as estate planning attorneys, is to simply write down what you want to happen after you’re gone. That certainly is an important part of what we do.

But, often times, people come in and are not sure what’s the “fair” or “best” way to treat their children or other beneficiaries. When we meet with a client and start to dig more deeply into your family history and the skills, needs and circumstances of each of your beneficiaries, we often identify issues not previously thought about, that should be addressed.

When I got out of law school (some 42 years ago!), attorneys were called “Counselors at Law”. Even though you may not hear that term any more, now more than ever our role is to help guide you through these kinds of challenging, difficult estate planning discussions (but, of course, the final decisions are always up to you!).

Our law firm has handled over 4,000 estate plan administrations after people have passed and we apply that extensive knowledge of what we’ve seen work best when plans are carried out and ultimately tested. Theoretical solutions aren’t always the most practical; and complex solutions often cause more contests and disagreements over exactly how they should work.

Our principal job is to help you formulate a reasonable plan that you can live with (and die in peace with), and that you and your kids are likely to find “fair.” Obviously, there is no one solution suitable for every family. We will sit down with you to explore in detail your finances, family dynamics, family history, individual beneficiary situations and your goals.

One Late Note:

What’s “Fair” Needs to Be Periodically Reviewed

Estate planning is not a one-shot and it’s done forever deal. Lots of things change over time, which is why we urge our clients to come in to review their plan about every 3 years. Even if the division of your assets and what you consider is “fair” hasn’t changed, the more times our file notes reflect that you’ve reviewed your plan and decided it was okay, the better protection you and your loved ones have against any “contest” or fight by a beneficiary who feels he or she wasn’t treated fairly or was “promised” something different than what he or she got. We’ve also found that a note in your own handwriting, as to why you may give beneficiaries unequal shares, done in our office when no beneficiary can claim you were “unduly influenced” by another, can go a long way towards fostering a good relationship among your children after your passing – – and could potentially even prevent a lawsuit against your estate from an angry child who feels “That’s not fair!”

If you haven’t been in for a review of your plan for the past 3 years, call us to schedule a free attorney meeting.

A special thanks to my estate planning colleague, attorney Joseph S. Karp, who practices in South Florida, for his substantial contribution to this article.

Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.
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