Going Beyond the Will

Going Beyond the Will

According to legalzoom.com, 56% of Americans agree that estate planning is important.  Surprisingly, then, only 34% actually have wills or other estate planning documents.  Experience with COVID 19 makes a big difference, 41% of those who had family members with the disease have taken care of this chore.  Those who have had COVID are 66% more likely to have a will.

At one time, the main impetus for creating a will was to bring federal and state death taxes under control. Now, many states have repealed their death taxes or raised the threshold to pay them. On the federal level, the taxation threshold is currently much higher too, having doubled until 2026. Those who pass away in 2024 will have $13.61 million exempt from federal estate taxes. If you are married, both spouses could take advantage of that exemption amount and have $27.22 million exempt from federal estate taxes if they both die in 2024.

Although death taxes may not worry most families anymore, there are other reasons that do apply regardless of wealth level. Here are four considerations that may have an even bigger impact than taxes, such as:

  • Provide direction to the probate court. The will nominates an executor for the estate, and avoids the intestacy rules that apply in the absence of a will. If you want to avoid the publicity inherent in probate and protect the financial privacy of the family, then you may want to consider a trust to go the extra mile.
  • Familial harmony. One can reduce arguments among siblings by designating where and how sentimental assets should be distributed.
  • Unequal distribution of estate. In some cases, it is appropriate to leave unequal or different portions of the estate to children. Should one child have special needs, perhaps they will need more assets to ensure they have a caretaker. Should one child be taking over the family business, perhaps other assets need to be adjusted.
  • For younger parents, naming the guardian for their children. For older adults, creating plans for your pets, and let family members know who you think the caretaker should be. Perhaps leaving extra for that person to ensure it’s not a financial burden.

Beyond assets, there is an intangible inheritance

 There is the story of your life.

Ancestry.com has created compelling clips of celebrities being taken aback exploring their family trees and discovering emotional connections. Two shows in particular are Finding Your Roots and Who Do You Think You Are? These serve as a reminder of all the sacrifices and hardships by ancestors that allowed the miracle of ourselves to be in this world.

At Garden State Trust Company, we are reminded of all the ways that we are connected to those that leave us beyond the assets they leave that need to be transferred. It is the stories, experience, guidance, and love that we cherish and try to live up to and pass along ourselves.

There are many opportunities to share these stories. Should one be gifting stock, they can provide the reason and origin story for why that stock was initially selected. Should one be divesting sentimental artwork, or a grandchild is visiting and looking at artwork, the acquisition story can be shared there too. Some just need a prompt. Did I ever tell you about my first job? Did I ever tell you about how I met your mother? If they are gone, we can sometimes create our own style of an ancestry through relics that we have, such as letters, or military records accessible online.

One way to pass along these stories that might have an impact on future generations is to create a journal. If you are facing writer’s block, there are journals you could purchase with prompts on each page to help get started, or you could try a service such as Storyworth. Another approach is to videotape an interview with the ancestor, to collect interesting life moments or observations.

Stories create impact. Financial incentives can create impact too. Sometimes a little push in the right direction can make an outsized impact, and an incentive trust can help you to create that little push after you’re no longer physically present to do so. At Garden State Trust Company, we would love to hear your story, and help find ways to help you create a lasting legacy with it.