Thursday, September 19, 2013

Adjusting Estate Plan Documents for Lifetime Gifts or Loans

Clients are often concerned with ensuring that they treat each of their children equally. Clients worry that imbalanced gifting between children, for example providing more funds to one child to attend a private university while their sibling attended a state school, providing one child with the funds to assist with the down payment on a house, or assisting one child with launching a business, will cause tension if not balanced out in the long run. This concern leads to a discussion about which children previously received gifts or loans from the parents and how to adjust the distribution of trust assets to children to be fair to siblings who did not receive such gifts and loans.
One of my favorite phrases with clients is "the only limitation on what you can do is your imagination." I have one client who has chosen to add a provision to his trust that states that all distributions to children whether as a loan or a gift are to be treated as a gift and shares of the children are specifically not to be adjusted for anything received during lifetime. Other clients want options that provide greater equality, but are more complex. While I am happy to provide those options, I will often suggest to a client he or she may want to consider what is "fair" for each child rather than what is "equal.”
There are a number of ways to adjust distributions to account for gifts or loans to children during the client’s lifetime. One example is to have the trustee add all loans and/or gifts made during the client’s lifetime back into the estate at death for calculation purposes. The trustee then provides an equal division for all children, adjusting each child's share for loans and/or gifts they received during lifetime. If clients elect to use this method to adjust bequests, careful records should be kept, to ensure that children are not penalized for loans that were previously repaid.
Another option is to provide a specific dollar amount for each of the children who did not receive loans or gifts during lifetime, which the trustee distributes from the estate before the equal division occurs. Again, good record keeping is important with this method to avoid creating an imbalance in favor of a different child.
There are number of other options, but it is clear that such clauses should be added to a client's documents only after a discussion with the client and careful drafting by a qualified professional.

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