Most words have an ordinary, everyday usage. However, when you commit them to writing – in a law, a contract, a will, a trust, and so on – some words can become pretty tricky. While “marriage” as a legal term has been a hot topic as of late, by far one of the trickiest words in the estate planning lexicon is “family.”
It is hard to find an estate plan that has nothing to do with family in Overland Park or elsewhere. In fact, the great majority of estate plans are all about family. So, when it comes to "family" in the context of estate planning, how could there be any ambiguity?
WealthManagement tracks some of the practical problems in a recent article titled, “What is a “Family?”
You see, the problems with the definitions of "family" really have little to do with federal or state law (unlike “marriage”), because "family" can be defined by the person actually planning his or her estate.
The original article discusses several different contexts in which this term arise in estate planning and each only muddies the definitions of family. For example, consider a “family trust” established in 1910 to serve multiple generations. Did the person establishing such a trust foresee how the family would look in 2013 after divorces, second marriages, children out of wedlock, same-sex partners and all other manner of contemporary occurrences?
What is a trustee of such a “family trust” to do, especially when interpreting the trust to determine the intent of a settlor long deceased?
Are we any better in imagining the future as we write our own estate plans today? If you think about it, even without considering the social mores involved, there are potentially very practical family problems whenever a trust lasts for multiple generations. After all, with every succeeding generation the number of potential beneficiaries tends to grow exponentially. Over time, each generation is less related and less connected to the others, not to mention the original maker of the trust.
So what is “family” to you and do your legal documents reflect your wishes?
All of this highlights the importance of working with an experienced estate planning attorney to help you design an appropriate estate plan for your family, however you choose to define it.
Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When making your financial, tax and estate plans, do not go it alone. Be sure to engage competent professional counsel.For more information about estate planning and to download free tools to help you organize your estate, visit my estate planning website.
Reference: WealthManagement.com (June 28, 2013) “What is a “Family?””