Sharon L. Klein, managing director of Family Office Services at Wilmington Trust, often gives advice to families pondering how to leave a legacy after they die.
“It’s not about death or mortality, which no one wants to think about, it’s about leaving a legacy,” Klein says. “It’s about empowering your descendants with the tools that they need to deal with wealth, or to do with a trust or to instill trust in their children.”
“The last part of the conversation is, ‘How do you invest your assets?’ The first part of the question is, ‘What are your goals? What is your family structure? How do you want your children to benefit?’ and you kind of work from there into the financial picture.”
According to the U.S. Census, 47.6 percent of women age 15 to 44 are childless, the largest share since the census began tracking that data in 1976. Klein says that can make things more difficult when it comes to leaving assets to future generations.
“When it comes to couples who don’t have children, in some ways their estate planning is a lot more complicated. If you think about it, a couple who has children, the logical beneficiaries of their estate are, of course, their children,” she says. “Oftentimes the worst thing you can possibly do is do nothing. Why is that? State law takes over when you don’t have a will. It’s called the laws of intestacy, and that governs what happens when you don’t leave direction on where you want your assets to go.”
Those laws differ by state. In New York for example, your assets would be given to your spouse or your spouse’s family. That could mean your own family could be left without anything.
Klein says even if you don’t have a million-dollar estate, it’s worth planning to save headaches down the road.
“If you don’t have a living trust, if you don’t have a power of attorney, you’ll potentially have to go to court for an expensive and potentially embarrassing guardianship proceeding.”