Insight on Estate Planning - Year End 2013: Estate Planning Pitfall: Your estate plan leaves specific assets to specific heirs

Planning your estate around specific assets is risky and, in most cases, should be avoided. If you leave specific assets — such as homes, cars or stock — to specific people, you may inadvertently disinherit them. Here’s an example that illustrates the problem:

George has three children — Michael, Lindsay and Kyle — and wishes to treat them equally in his estate plan. In his will, he leaves a $500,000 mutual fund to Michael and his $500,000 home to Lindsay. He also names Kyle as beneficiary of a $500,000 life insurance policy.

By the time George dies, the mutual fund balance has grown to $750,000. In addition, George has sold the home for $750,000, invested the proceeds in the mutual fund and allowed the life insurance policy to lapse. He didn’t revise or revoke his will. The result? Michael receives the mutual fund, with a balance of $1.5 million, and Lindsay and Kyle are disinherited.

To avoid this outcome, it’s generally preferable to divide your estate based on dollar values or percentages rather than specific assets. George, for example, could have placed the mutual fund, home and insurance policy in a trust and divided the value of the trust equally between his three children.

If it’s important to you that specific assets go to specific heirs — for example, because you want your oldest child to receive the family home or you want your family business to go to a child who works for the company — there are planning techniques you can use to avoid undesired consequences. For example, your trust might provide for your assets to be divided equally but also provide for your children to receive specific assets at fair market value as part of their shares.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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