Use your legacy to impart values, not just assets

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Warren Buffet once indicated he would leave enough of his assets to his children so they could do anything they wanted to, but not so much that they could do nothing at all.

Now, he is one of the richest people in the world, so the above probably does not apply directly to most of us. But "how" we leave assets to loved ones can be very important.

For instance, if you anticipate that someone who is younger than 30 (perhaps a grandchild) might inherit some of your assets, you should consider leaving their assets "in trust" with someone more mature serving as the fiduciary (trustee). Their parent could be trustee until the grandchild turns 30.

Let's say you have a son named Francis (married to Emily-Jane) and a grandchild named Bertha who is age 5. You want to leave Francis 75 percent of your assets "in trust" so as to protect these funds from loss to a creditor, lawsuit or divorce from Emily-Jane, and to direct that the remaining 25 percent will benefit Bertha for her education.

In that case, you should consider leaving her share "in trust" with Francis as trustee until Bertha turns 30, when she can then become her own trustee.

You might also direct some or all of your retirement assets into Bertha's trust so the required distributions can be spread over Bertha's life expectancy. This can defer taxes and be a great planning tool.

You can also direct that her benefit from the trust be tied to her productivity. You can provide bonus distributions to be made if certain desirable goals are achieved such as making honor roll.

You can provide an incentive to work by making a provision that what Bertha earns will be matched by the trust. Better yet, you can provide that the matched funds that are distributed shall be put into a retirement plan for Bertha.

Just imagine the difference between leaving all 25 percent to Bertha "free of trust" at 21 versus leaving her share "in trust" during her 20s with incentives built in for her to work and excel.

Do you think Bertha will do better if she is left a lump sum at 21, or if her share is managed to encourage her development and to reward positive behavior?

If Bertha is like most young people when she turns 21, having her share managed to encourage her development and to reward positive behavior will really help her in the long run.

Money is fungible and easily spent. If you can impart values like hard work and goal setting with your legacy, this can be far more valuable in the long run than any amount of money.

In an era of dwindling personal responsibility and increased government power, creating an incentive to rely on yourself and to work hard to accomplish your goals can be a great way to make sure your loved ones will realize their full potential.

Good planning imparts values, not just assets.

Mark F. Winn, J.D., Master of Laws (LL.M.) in estate planning, is a local asset protection, estate planning and elder law attorney. www.mwinnesq.com

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