On a personal note, I want to let my readers know that this year I celebrate my 25th year as a certified specialist in estate planning and probate law. I was first certified by the North Carolina State Bar in 1995. What that means for me is that I AM OLD. What that means for you is that I have handled a large variety of wills, trusts, powers of attorney, guardianships, estates, and other matters for my clients over the years.
What is “estate planning?” Estate planning means that I work with clients and their families to achieve the family’s goals for the transfer of ownership of assets from one generation to the next. I have helped countless families over the years, but I want to share with you some things that I see in all families. I have grouped these issues together into three categories that most of my families have in common.
First category: My children have different goals in life. I want to accommodate all of them. We parents have spent a lifetime (theirs!) with our children, and we have learned a thing or two about our kids over the years (even if they don’t think we’ve learned anything). Some of our children are driven individuals, who can take over a business or a farm and run it successfully. Some of our children are caring individuals, who have gravitated toward teaching, and social work. Others of our children are still learning who they are, and what they want to do on their life’s journey.
Talking through these different goals with a client, involves listening to what the client has learned as a parent, but also reminding the client that they are not looking at a complete picture. What a parent sees in a child today, may not be the same thing the parent sees tomorrow—especially when “tomorrow” is a date after the parent’s death. The death of a client-parent does not mark the end of their childrens’ growth—it is only a milestone and a challenge. Our children’s growth will continue, and as parents we must plan the transfer of our assets to our children to recognize who they are now, and who they can become.
Second category: Make it come out even. This is a frequent challenge, because few of us have all our assets reduced to cash, which is easy to divide. Most of us have one house, onefarm, one business. Or, it may be one diamond ring, one of grandmother’s quilts, or grandfather’s onlyshotgun. Finding a way to “keep the peace” involves thinking about the needs of each of your children, and accommodating those needs. Keeping the peace also involves balancing the directions in which you see each of your children heading in the future. Once all of the needs are accommodated, we can talk about your children’s wants.
Third category: I have a child with special needs, and I want that child to have special guidance. The type of “special need” can range from addiction issues, to developmental disabilities, to a bad marriage. Each of these situations requires a parent to look into a crystal ball, predict the future based on what the parent has already seen, and respond with a plan that will best suit the child’s predicted future. That plan could be as simple as giving a child time to mature, before dumping assets on an unready recipient. That plan could involve establishing benchmarks, and rewarding a child who achieves those benchmarks. That plan is a set of aspirations that we as parents have for each of our children, put into words and action. It is important that the plan be flexible, because once a parent has passed away, we can’t ask you how you think the plan should respond to a new, unforeseen challenge in your child’s life.
If you are in need of services like those I have described above, please come and see me or a member of my staff: Grant Brown, Shelley Troutman, Michele Shaw and Krista Ritter. All of us are dedicated to serving your needs. Please call our office manager, Michele Shaw, for an appointment soon.