A woman who identified herself as “T.S.” told a business advice columnist that her husband’s Will designated 50% of his assets to her and 50% to his daughter from a previous relationship. T.S. was contemplating leaving her husband over the Will. “I feel betrayed,” she wrote.
The letter and the advice T.S. received from columnist Quentin Fottrell went viral when first published by MarketWatch in 2020 — and for good reason. Fottrell said that T.S. was wrongly equating money with love. He pointed out that she was basically accusing her husband of loving her 50% less than she believed and told her she was doing the same by making money a “barometer of how much you love each other.”
While T.S. was excoriated in social media after her letter published, her concerns raise some important issues that should be addressed during the estate planning process.
First, it’s important to note that the size of an inheritance may have nothing to do with the size of someone’s level of love or care for their heir. In fact, it’s not unusual for a parent to name their children as heirs in a Will for a portion of their estate, especially if the children are adults and/or from a previous relationship. If the Will’s author is ensuring the spouse will be financially comfortable with a place to live, a split inheritance should not be taken as a sign that it’s time to divorce. Likewise, there is no obligation to leave an inheritance to anyone in most circumstances.
When considering setting up a similar Will arrangement as T.S.’ husband, there are some steps to take in advance to help ensure your wishes are being followed and to minimize hurt feelings like T.S. experienced:
- Communicate: No one wants to be surprised after a spouse’s death by a Will’s instructions on asset distribution. Talk to your spouse, children and other involved loved ones about the decisions you made, and why. Allowing them to ask questions and see your reasoning will go a long way toward bringing peace and understanding in the family.
- Establish a Trust: Consider creating a revocable or “living” trust, which will ensure your assets are managed as you’d like them should you be unable to do so yourself. You continue managing your assets while you can but, should you become incapacitated due to injury or illness, a trustee of your choosing will be authorized to do so. The revocable or living trust also includes your wishes for how your assets are to be transferred when you die.
- Choose Executors and Trustees Thoughtfully: An executor is the person named in the Will to oversee the estate after a person’s death. A trustee is appointed by being named in the trust itself to manage the trust’s assets and handling other tasks, such as tax filings and distribution of the trust’s assets. Be sure to choose someone trustworthy and unbiased for these roles, even potentially a professional who provides such services, such as an estate administration attorney.
While love certainly factors into the desire to ensure our families are cared for after we die, there are many other reasons, including taxes, expenses and even circumstances we may not be aware of, that impact people’s decisions when creating an estate plan.