While it may be awkward or uncomfortable to consider your own mortality, if you have minor children, it is important to think about their protection and well-being. An estate plan can help shape the course of their lives, if you are not able to do so yourself. However, it is just as important to consider when your children will inherit as it is what your children will be inheriting.
In most states, including Georgia, a person legally reaches adulthood when they turn 18 years old. That means that without specific planning in place, they can inherit any money, property, or other assets from your estate. But an 18-year-old inheriting a lump sum of money may not be what all parents want. Fortunately, there are a few options for mapping out that inheritance.
While your children can inherit through your Last Will & Testament, if you want to control how and when the money is distributed – then the most common way to do that is with a trust. A testamentary trust, for example, is created in a person’s will and does not take effect until the person passes away. At that point, the executor will handle the probate process and distribute the assets according to the terms of the testamentary document. Testamentary trusts are designed to accomplish a specific estate planning goal, such as preserving assets for children. If the beneficiary is a minor, a trustee will help manage the funds until he or she reaches a specified age.
Another option is a revocable trust or a minor’s trust, which is separate from a will. With these arrangements, the person creating the trust names a trustee (usually another relative or close friend) who will manage the assets for the child until they reach a specified age. Or, if the child is already a certain age when their parent passes away, the trust assets will go directly to them. With this type of trust, the children’s financial needs can be accommodated while the assets are also protected from the court, creditors, or irresponsible spenders.
One of the benefits of a trust is that the person creating it (the parent) can put in specific language related to the distribution of the money, property, or other assets. For example, the trust may have instructions for the trustee to distribute assets in segments, like when the beneficiary turns 20, 25, and 30. Or, the person creating the trust can stipulate that the beneficiary cannot receive any of the trust funds until certain events take place, such as college graduation, full-time employment, etc. Another to structure the trust is to allow for distributions for certain expenses (ex: college tuition, purchasing a home, starting a business, paying for a wedding, etc.). Other parents have elected to create an incentive-style trust that matches the child’s income. If the child earns $5,000 a month, the trustee will distribute $5,000 a month from the trust, and so forth. A parent can also include language about incentive distributions if their child is involved in a non-profit or other charitable organization.
While there are numerous types of trusts and even more ways to manage the distribution of those trusts, it is important to consider which options will work best for your unique family situation. With inheritance planning, you want to think about the size of the estate, how inheritance may impact your child, and how financially responsible he or she may be. Many of these factors are tied to the child’s age at the time of inheritance, as well as their financial needs at that time.
Children aged 12-years and younger
At this stage, it may be too soon to tell whether your child will become a financially responsible adult. Who you choose as the child’s trustee is extremely important, as they will be managing the trust funds and overseeing the child’s financial future. Consider creating a lifetime trust or a trust that distributes through the child’s early adult years – until they have a good understanding of how to manage themselves and their financial health.
Teenagers and young adults
Once your child reaches their teenage years, you will have a better idea about their maturity, spending habits, and their general direction in life. Still, many teens and young adults are not prepared to handle a large sum of money at a young age. To deter excess spending and to encourage certain life choices (ex: graduation, starting a business, purchasing a home), a parent might consider creating a trust with multiple disbursements based on age or life events.
At this age, a child is likely financially independent and making their own choices as it relates to their family, business, and home. If you feel your adult child is responsible with their money, you might consider creating a trust that gives them an inheritance outright. Or, you can choose to spread out the disbursements, so as to protect your children against divorces or creditors.
Have Additional Questions? Contact the Estate Planning Team at Siedentopf Law
As with many aspects of estate planning, creating an inheritance trust for your child is a balance of protecting their basic interests while also providing them the means to grow and prosper. If you have additional questions about trusts or estate planning, or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact Siedentopf Law at (404) 736-6066 or via our website.
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