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Modern Estate Planning Blog

Elder Law & Special Needs Planning

Life Lessons and Values: How To Pass Intangible Wealth To Your Kids and Grandkids | Fair Oaks Estate Lawyer

June 2, 2014

Statistics show that 69% of parents have not yet named guardians for their minor children. Of those who have made arrangements for guardianship, how many have included a life plan or roadmap, if you will, providing the new guardian with information regarding the life experiences they would like their children to have?

While it is one thing to name someone in a will or trust who can raise your children, it is equally important to document HOW you would like them to be raised. In other words, the types of values you would like passed on to them, the types of things you would like them exposed to, the experiences you feel are important to their upbringing, etc. These are all important factors and need to be included during the Fair Oaks Estate Planning Process.

For instance,

“What do I want my children and/or grandchildren to know was important to me?”

“What kind of a person do I want my children and/or grandchildren to become?”

“What kind of personal ‘values’ do I want instilled in my children?”

While we, as parents and grandparents, should take the time to instill our values in our children while we are alive, the estate plan is an important place to reinforce these values. Through the estate planning process you can articulate any instructions regarding how you would like your children to be raised, what you would like them to experience, and communicate this information to the loved ones you leave behind.

This information can be included in what is known as a value statement in the form of “your letter of wishes” or even in instructions to the guardians and fiduciaries within the terms of the will or trust. Most value statements are written as basic guidelines to influence the guardian to carry out the deceased’s wishes, but carry no legal effect. Others serve as an incentive to the distribution or limitation of the distribution of the provisions, and are, in fact, binding on the fiduciary.

While these things are important, they are often left out of the Fair Oaks estate and will planning process because they simply have nothing to do with the size of the deceased’s estate, the federal Applicable Exclusion Amount, or any other legal or tax provision. Yet, for those who take the time to document their values, the “intangible wealth” left behind is priceless.

Beloved actor and celebrity, Philip Seymour Hoffman, passed away in early February from depression and drug overdose, leaving behind specific instructions for the guardian of his son. While Hoffman was young, talented, active in his career, loved by many and seemed to have everything going for him, he suffered from a history of depression and substance abuse, which lead to his early demise.

As with the death of any celebrity, the media feeds on this type of news and Philip Seymour Hoffman, was no exception. Most often, articles regarding the estate plans of celebrities who have passed on focus on the legal challenges raised during the settlement of the estate or the amount of estate tax that could have otherwise been avoided. However, an article recently surfaced in the media written by Anne Bjerken that noted Hoffman had laid out specific instructions for the guardian of his minor son:

“it is my strong desire…that my son, COOPER HOFFMAN, be raised and reside in or near the borough of Manhattan in the State of New York, or Chicago, Illinois, or San Francisco, California, and if my guardian cannot reside in those cities, then it is my strong desire, and not direction, that my son, COOPER HOFFMAN, visit these cities at least twice per year throughout such guardianship. The purpose of this request is so that my son will be exposed to the culture, arts, and architecture that such cities offer.” [1]

These instructions serve as a reminder to us that some of our most important “assets” have NOTHING to do with financial or tax-related matters, but more so the personal values and legacy we leave our family, children, and grandchildren when we are gone.

While we do not know how well Philip Seymour Hoffman articulated his values to his son, we do know that his death cut short any opportunity his son may have had of benefiting from his influence as a father and role model. We do know that Hoffman felt so strongly about providing cultural exposure for his son that he had it written in his will.

The broader message here is that for every parent, often the personal, non-financial part of the estate plan is just as important, if not more important than the financial and tax driven side.

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Heather was wonderful. She explained, in understandable terms, why it is important to establish an estate plan. I never realized what would happen, without a plan in place, and we could not bear the thought of our child in arms of absolute strangers while the court system sorted out his future.

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