Estate planning is about taking care of your family and loved ones. But what if you have concerns about how your loved ones will use those assets? You spent a lifetime earning what you have through hard work and thrift. So why pass it along only to be squandered? Would you hand over the car keys to a teen who hasn’t proven he or she can drive? As any automobile insurance agent can attest, we spend a good deal of energy (and resources) ensuring that doesn’t happen. I’ve written on this topic before (see this earlier article I reviewed in the New York Times), but The Wall Street Journal recently provided more suggestions worthy of your consideration. An elaborate but effective way of ensuring the financial literacy of your heirs and the security of your family assets can be the formation of a family investment company. Here’s how it works: You establish the company, put your heirs on the board, and have them hold discussions with your financial advisors. Throughout the process, you can look on and ensure that correct decisions are being made. While you may elect to hold back and observe the progress of your heirs, the process may surprise you and exceed your expectations… or it simply may justify your concerns. In any event, the family investment company can make for a great learning experience. For some families, that may entail paying for academic financial lessons, as well as providing a time for inter-generational conversations about the family assets. Regardless, to be most beneficial, the process should be started earlier rather than later and provide for ongoing involvement. The main tool for teaching financial skills and inheritance training usually will be the trust. There are a great many tools at your disposal when you begin a trust and you can tailor them to include incentives or benchmarks to protect the assets and the heirs. Of course, the trust also can be powerful, since it brings the trustees into the mix. Another suggestion to consider is appointing multiple trustees. For example, you may appoint one trustee to manage the purse-strings and another to oversee the heirs and gauge their progress. Depending on how you arrange the trust, the trustees can become powerful gatekeepers to protect the assets and even motivate the heirs. As a result, it is often advisable that you consider appointing someone far removed to be in charge of trust finances, with a family friend to interact with the heirs. In many instances, it is not advisable to appoint a family member as trustee, since this may create intra-family strife. There are many options to consider and these are just a few. What you do will depend on your assets, your heirs, and the specific concerns you hope to address. It is best to discuss your concerns with appropriate legal counsel who understands your situation and can help you determine the best course of action.
Reference: The Wall Street Journal (September 19, 2011) “When You’re Child’s A Spendthrift”