Estate planning is a topic intimately connected to death, and can therefore be hard to talk about. However, it can help to reframe our thinking: We are all going to die someday, and since we cannot take anything with us, the things we own are going to go somewhere. Estate planning documents give us a voice in the disposition of those assets, rather than leaving the matter to the state.

At CCM, we encourage you to view your estate documents as an opportunity to dictate where assets go in a way that is true to the legacy you want to leave, and most loving to those you leave behind.

As advisors, one of the privileges of our work is that we see a great many estate planning documents, and have the opportunity to appreciate the thought and care with which they’re created. Here are some notable estate plan provisions we have seen used as expressions of love for those left behind:

  • Bloodline preferences – Some people specify in their estate documents that their assets must stay in their bloodline and cannot be given to a child’s spouse in the event of a divorce. While this can seem harsh to any sons- or daughters-in-law, it gives the children a firmer financial foundation in the event of divorce. Sometimes this financial foundation makes the difference between a child staying in an unhappy or abusive marriage and having the courage to move on.
  • Assets to in-laws – On the flip side, some people choose to direct assets to the ex-spouses of their children in recognition of and gratitude for the role they have played in the decedent's life. This is often more common when a person's child has had a rough time and that parent wants to recognize the child's spouse for all that they did to help their child through that time, even when the marriage itself did not last.
  • Assets to non-family members – There is no rule that assets must pass to blood relatives, and sometimes estate documents include gifts to other important people in the decedent’s life, such as neighbors or good friends.
  • Restrictive provisions – While it may seem counterintuitive, sometimes the most loving provisions restrict how and when a beneficiary can access the money that is left to them. This may be done because of struggles that beneficiary has had or is currently facing (for example with money management or substance abuse) or it may be done to preserve access to vital special needs resources. Ultimately, these provisions work best when they are designed to maximize the positive impact those assets can have on the beneficiary over the course of their life.
  • Treats – My mother likes to say the trustee of her trust can give the beneficiaries funds for "health, education, maintenance, support, and chocolate cake." I do not actually know if that is written in her estate documents, but we have seen people put provisions in their documents for treats, such as flowers on a special date like a birthday or anniversary, so that the beneficiary gets the regular reminder that they are loved, even when that person is no longer here.
  • Charitable donations – Charitable donations can be included in estate plans, and sometimes those donations are made on behalf of a loved one or in memory of someone. Examples include giving to the American Cancer Society in memory of a loved one who passed away from cancer or giving to the Animal Humane Society in memory of a beloved pet.
  • Legacy letters – While not required to be included in a standard suite of estate documents, a legacy letter can be a beautiful last statement from you to the people you love. Legacy letters often include values that the decedent wants to share one last time, any stories or explanations they want to leave with their loved ones, and an expression of heartfelt love for them. Legacy letters can take many forms, and there are many different templates available online. 

The above are only a handful of ways in which people can specifically use their estate documents to express love and caring for the people they leave behind. The most important thing is that a person’s estate plan provisions are true to their wishes. As always, we encourage you to carefully reflect on what you want to accomplish through your estate plan and then share those wishes with your attorney, as an attorney is in the best position to translate them into estate documents. Your CCM advisor can be a helpful sounding board as you refine your wishes, and we can also be an important partner in making sure those wishes are carried out, both during your life and after your death.

NOTE: The information provided in this article is intended for clients of Carlson Capital Management. We recommend that individuals consult with a professional adviser familiar with their particular situation for advice concerning specific investment, accounting, tax, and legal matters before taking any action.