Parents often worry about their children–even their adult children. In many cases, no one knows about a child’s strengths and weaknesses better than their parents. Local residents often take this into account when crafting New York estate plans. For those whose children may not be ready to handle a large inheritance, many parents reasonably want to know what options they have to both pass on assets to children but protect them from getting the funds before they can handle them.
In fact, this issue has been getting a bit of media coverage over the past two weeks upon the death of pop star Whitney Houston. As reported in Forbes this week, speculation abounds regarding the star’s estate planning. Most suspect that the singer is likely to have left her entire fortune, reportedly worth $20 million or more, to her only daughter–18-year old Bobbi Kristina. The young girl is undoubtedly fragile at this stage in her life, especially after just losing her mother. In addition, many family members have voiced concerns that the young woman has also battled substance abuse problems over the past few years. This is leading many to question the daughter’s ability to handle a lump sum payout from her mother’s estate.
Early reports suggest that Ms. Houston had done some estate planning–but not much. She apparently had a will which left everything to her daughter. Because her daughter is a legal adult, under a will she will receive the money immediately. As most community members appreciate, few 18-year olds are truly ready to handle millions of dollars. However, without any other advance planning, the only option for the family is likely to go to court and try to get the teenager declared legally incompetent to manage her finances. They could then seek a conservatorship which would allow a third party to control the inheritance until such time that the court finds the daughter able to handle the responsibilities of the inheritance.
How could this have been avoided? By using a trust.
Our New York estate planning attorneys have helped many local families prepare for this possibility and plan ahead. Trusts are the ideal tool to accomplish this goal. They are private, meaning that they take place outside of the court process. This allows families to conduct much more detailed preparation with the assurance that the decision won’t be changed by a judge when they are gone. One popular option is to have the trust dispense money to children at different rates throughout their life. For example, they may receive 20% at age thirty, another 40% five year later, and then the remainder at age forty. Alternatively, the payments can be set not at specific ages but times after the parent’s death–20% at the parent’s death, 40% five years later, and the remaining 20% ten years later, regardless of the age of the child.
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