A frustrated son recently wrote into a well-known advice columnist, lamenting the fact that his father refused to create a trust based estate plan or even a will that would designate how his property and various businesses should be handled in the event of his passing.
The son questioned whether such action was “selfish.”
Our Mesa estate planning attorneys agree with the response given, which was essentially that, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”
We certainly understand that such topics may not be comfortable to discuss because it forces us to face our own mortality. Some take the tack of having “plenty of time” to take care of such matters.
Of course, the truth is, none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, no matter how healthily and righteously we live. In a sense, it is selfish to burden your grieving family members with the task of sorting out your affairs – especially if, as in this case, they may be somewhat complicated.
According to the letter writer, the father had impressively established a small real estate “empire” of about three dozen multifamily residential homes. He was very hands-on in managing these properties, taking on every duty from collections and evictions to routine maintenance and repairs.
However, the legal structure of the operation was somewhat of a patchwork, with certain properties owned solely by him, others by him and his second wife and others under the LLC he had formed. His first wife (mother of the letter writer) lived in a home that his father (and possibly stepmother) own. The letter writer’s sister and her husband recently decided to quit their jobs to help the father manage and possibly someday take over the business, though there was no structured succession plan in place.
The letter writer noted that he was just fine on his own financially and that he wasn’t highly concerned about an inheritance. The bigger issue was the legal mess he, his sister, his mother and stepmother (with whom he wasn’t close) would have to sort through should his father die without an estate plan.
This of course is a legitimate concern. It’s also the kind of discussion we expect more and more people will be confronting as the population ages. Baby boomers have been an especially entrepreneurial generation, with a 2011 survey by Guidant Financial revealing that roughly 84 percent of new business owners are between the ages of 40 and 60. It is believed when the economy tanked, many people took the opportunity and the savings they had left to attempt to strike out on their own, as may have been their dream all along.
A fair number have found success.
Now, they owe it to their families to ensure their affairs are properly in order. The last thing you want is for your passing to drive a wedge between those you care about the most. Such legal wrangling is likely to cost them not only emotionally, but financially as well.
Better that you handle it now on your own.
For adult children hoping to have such issues resolved, you may want to approach the issue by providing your parent or parents with the names of a qualified estate planner in their area and offering to set up a meeting. Sometimes, helping them take that first step can be all the push they need.