This article is about some of what those families have learned.
- Don’t designate minors as primary beneficiaries on anything. Imagine being a divorcee with Peter Pan as an ex-spouse and play-date dad. The unthinkable happens but you’ve left a life insurance policy naming your 12 year-old son as primary beneficiary. Guess who may control the proceeds of that policy?
- Don’t designate adult children who cannot manage personal finances well (aka “spendthrifts”) as primary beneficiaries on anything either. Imagine leaving $250,000.00 to your daughter who blows it in one year on my favorites – Ralph Lauren, Rancho Mirage, Peach Champagne, Anne Fontaine, Jimmy Choo, and Paris. Note: I’m working my way up to Anne Fontaine.
- Don’t assume a will does the trick if you’re cohabiting. The potential of inheriting even modest sums of money does strange things to the affinity family members have for each other, let alone what family members may have felt for non-blood-related members. Family members will try to kick a cohabiting partner to the curb so fast, the engraving on the headstone won’t be finished yet.
- Don’t depend on a will if you and your spouse or partner have children from previous relationships. What do you think will happen if the step-children who you adored and treated so generously during the 15 years of your marriage to their father realize that you’re leaving everything to your children? More importantly, what do you think your kids will do if they realize that you’ve left a substantial portion to the step-kids? Ahhh…the privacy of trusts.
- Don’t ignore documents with beneficiary designations if you’re recently divorced. Imagine winning a handsome settlement because Peter Pan was also Mr. Gigolo and then, the unthinkable happens, and you didn’t change the designations on your will and life insurance? Antacids don’t work for the dearly departed.
- Don’t ignore planning if you’re recently married, especially if a prenuptial agreement is involved. And for goodness sake, ensure that your attorney takes care to explicitly define certain items, such as the marital residence, but is not so explicit as in providing the exact address. What if years later, you divorce and the prenupt states you get the house on Rosemary Lane no matter what but your spouse convinced you to sell the house on Rosemary Lane but your will states that in the event of a divorce, the terms of the prenupt govern the property that shall be considered your estate?
- Don’t ignore planning if you’ve more than one intended beneficiary. Beneficiaries will fight over pennies, over tattered recliners, over cats, over who gets to be administrator. Maybe you’ll enjoy the bickering in the karmic impish sense, but do you really want your estate to pay lawyers’ fees to straighten this out because that’s who will pay, if at all possible, not the beneficiaries, but you and you’ll be dead!