Depending on your family dynamic and life circumstances, estate planning can be a challenging and even uncomfortable task. It’s difficult enough to contemplate your own mortality, let alone planning out who in your life should receive your money, property, and possessions after you die.
If you’re struggling to figure out how to divide up your assets and choose who inherits from your estate, here are a few helpful hints for people in different family circumstances.
How to determine your beneficiaries
For couples with no children
If you and your spouse don’t have children, a Simple Will — one in which all your assets are automatically inherited by your surviving spouse — can seem like the best and easiest solution. However, it’s important to consider whether you might want other family members, such as parents, siblings, nieces/nephews, cousins, close friends, and other parties, to directly benefit from your estate after your death. Consider this carefully and prioritize your potential beneficiaries based on their level of need and your personal relationship with them.
For couples with multiple children
Couples and individuals with just one child typically leave the majority of their estate to that child. However, inheritance can quickly become tricky in families with multiple children.
Generally, it is best to divide your assets, including real property, vehicles, and other high-value possessions, equally among your children, as this will limit family conflict. When divvying up different assets, it is also important to consider what will mean the most to each child, both emotionally and financially. The overriding principle should be the promotion of family harmony.
If you do decide to leave your children different amounts of your assets (or disinherit them in favor of another important person or entity in your life), it is important to make your reasoning clear, both during your lifetime and in the language of your Will. One of your children may attempt to challenge the Will in probate court after you’ve passed away, which is why it is important to create a Will while you are still of sound mind and body, avoiding undue influence from your children.
A no-contest clause — which stipulates that anyone contesting the Will forfeits their inheritance — can help discourage challenges to your Will during the probate process.
For couples with a blended family
Blended families are becoming more common, so you’ll want to make sure all your estate planning documents reflect your specific situation and relationships with your children and/or stepchildren. For instance, you might decide to leave specific assets directly to your biological child(ren) to ensure they receive their fair share of your inheritance, while the remainder of your estate goes to your spouse to care for their own biological children.
If you currently have any minor children or stepchildren, setting up trusts can be helpful to ensure assets are properly managed and distributed until those children reach adulthood.
To make your wishes clear, be sure to communicate with all beneficiaries to set expectations and avoid family conflicts after your death.
For single individuals with no children
Even when you don’t have any immediate heirs, it’s important to create a Will and choose beneficiaries to avoid a probate court bequeathing your assets to family members whom you may not wish to inherit from your estate. Without a valid Will, Virginia’s intestate succession laws will determine your beneficiaries in a specific order, regardless of your personal relationships with your relatives.
When choosing your beneficiaries, make sure they are current and clearly indicated through the language in your estate plans. If you don’t wish to leave your estate to individual people, you might consider creating a trust to supplement your Will. For instance, you can set up a Pet Trust, in which a (human) trustee is legally entrusted to use your assets to care for your beloved pet(s) after you die. Or, if you want to leave your assets to a meaningful organization, you can set up trusts like a charitable remainder trust or charitable lead trust.
Get help developing your estate plans
If you or a loved one need assistance with estate planning matters in Virginia, including writing a Will, The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor is here to help. Contact us to schedule a complimentary consultation call today.