Monday, October 25, 2010

Trusts and estates

Thinking about Knole leads to thinking about inheritance--there were fights within the family over who should inherit the place over the years. And issues of inheritance leads to wills...

I was trying to get all our papers in order before we flew off to London just in case the plane went down. Yes, I'm cheery that way, but I've been dealing with my father's estate these last few months and so am particularly sensitive to the need for survivors to be able to locate important documents. (Kudos to my dad, by the way, for doing a great job in that department.) Anyway, Mr. M happened to look over our wills. We'd done them mostly to name guardians for our kids, and now the baby is 21. Guess it's time for an update.

So when we got back to the States, we went to see a lawyer. As I say, I've been dealing with my dad's estate--and my mother's as well--over the last few years, so wills and estate planning have been on my mind more than in the past. But talking to the lawyer made me wonder...How much do I really want to control things after I'm dead?

There are ways to structure estates (assuming there's anything to pass on) so surviving children can't get the use of their inheritance until they are 25 or 35 or older. Of course setting up a trust and having a trustee administer the funds makes complete sense if you have a young child or a disabled child or one with serious issues that would compromise his ability to manage things wisely. But other than that...I dunno.

And then there is the issue of divorce. If a child marries and then the marriage dissolves, do you want the ex-spouse taking any inheritance off to a new marriage?

Hmm. You know, I guess I'd like to think my kids would be able to handle things--and if they can't, they've got bigger problems than the few bucks they might be getting from me. Again, I have to hand it to my parents. When we had to finally clean out Dad's apartment, there was no fighting over stuff. (Actually, my brothers wanted me to take everything--and dispose of it one way or another.)

I do want our family heirlooms to find a good home. They have meaning beyond any price tag. But money? Obviously nice to have, but eh, I'm not sure how much I really care what happens to that. (Assuming I haven't already spent it all myself!) I'll be dead, after all. And I don't have a house and lands like Knole to keep up.

Yes, it's probably a good thing I'm not a wills and estates lawyer.

And no, the picture above is not of one of my family's heirlooms. It's a tureen and cover from about 1752-56 that I saw in the British Museum. The fish is a plaice. I just looked that up in my trusty OED--it's a "well-known European flat fish." Gee, thanks for pointing out my fishy ignorance, OED.

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