Thursday, September 12, 2013

Protecting Beneficiaries from Experiencing Problems with Their Inheritances

Inherited wealth comes with many advantages, but it also has disadvantages. Depending upon which source you consider, between $10 trillion and $30 trillion will pass by gift or inheritance by the year 2030. More of our clients, be they older with adult children or younger with small children, are becoming increasingly concerned that passing large sums of money may not be in the best interests of their families.
Over the last 30 years, the focus in estate planning has been upon reducing gift, estate or generation-skipping transfer taxes. The intent was to minimize the amount of a client's estate that was "shared" with the IRS. However, with the increased exemption creating a decreased focus on the tax implications of inheritances, more of our clients now focus on how distributions to their children may affect their lives. They worry about children losing the motivation to accomplish something of worth. They also worry about the significant complexity added to their children's lives when they acquire wealth and suddenly have a variety of relatives and strangers trying to tell them what to do with those newfound assets. Some clients even worry about their children engaging in addictive or self-destructive behavior or even a spendthrift lifestyle that causes them to spend their money too quickly.
I believe it was Warren Buffett who said, "You should leave your children with enough money so that they can do anything, but not so much they can do nothing."  With similar thoughts in mind, clients are starting to look at incentive clauses to discourage unproductive behavior and encourage worthwhile pursuits. Access to the trust funds may now be subject to incentive clauses, such as
      Tying distributions to a demonstration of some type of personal accomplishment, such as receiving educational degrees (but making sure you avoid creating "professional student", contribution to charitable pursuits or distributions to equal income earned.
      Requiring financial training to be able to manage wealth responsibly.
      Matching earned income, at least up to a certain point
      Providing funds for "extended family vacations" to encourage continuation of family relationships after the death of parents
      Requiring periodic testing to provide knowledge of any substance abuse issues and limitations of distributions therefore
      Matching contributions to retirement savings to encourage a beneficiary to save for retirement
      Requiring a prenuptial agreement in order to protect the "family assets" from being lost to an ex-spouse.
Each of these incentive clauses, and many others, can have many benefits, but clients should also consider the drawbacks. Matching earned income with the trust distribution may work against those beneficiaries who have chosen public service, a religious vocation or chosen to be stay-at-home parents. Incentive clauses can be excellent ways to protect and pass on family assets, but should be considered carefully with assistance from qualified professionals.
When discussing such provisions with clients we take the position that it is not our place to tell the clients what action to take. Instead, we serve as an advisor, informing them of the potential consequences of their actions and allowing them to make the decision that they feel is best for their loved ones. This method allows the clients to achieve their goals while minimizing the chance that their intentions will be subverted after they are gone.

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