Below is a fictional letter I drafted to a former partner because I know only too well what can happen when estate planning is not done properly after divorce. I hope you enjoy this outreach to an ex-spouse or partner and consider taking steps to do everything this letter suggests for you. You can even send the link to your ex!
Though we’re not married (cohabitating, procreating) anymore, there are a few things I’d like to say about how you set up your affairs for our kids. You’re about to go on vacation, and I know you worry about being away from them and having an emergency or tragedy happen. I know I don’t have any say in how you set up your estate plan, but there are things that I’d like you to consider about the well-being and care of our beautiful children. So please:
- Make sure your life insurance is up-to-date and your beneficiaries are listed properly. Don’t name our kids as direct beneficiaries! That will put them straight into a conservatorship where a judge will supervise their financial lives until 18, then they’ll get the assets outright in one fell swoop.
- Instead, leave your assets to them in trust, which will sidestep probate, keep the management of your assets private and in your control, and prevent the loss of those assets to our kids’ future creditors and predators and reduce the estate taxes that can take valuable resources away from our kids.
- Name a trustee that I can work with — someone you trust with your life — because your trustee will have to deal with me. If I were the only parent left, I would be legally responsible for ensuring the assets left to our children are properly managed. I would be looking at the annual accountings. I would be the one asking for court intervention if they are mismanaged or embezzled.
- Don’t leave your assets to our kids outright and don’t leave too much. There is nothing more damaging to a kid’s life purpose than having too much money at his or her fingertips. There’s a saying, “Leave them with enough to do something, but not enough to do nothing.” If you have a lot of assets, consider giving some to your favorite charity instead of the kids.
- Don’t cheap out on an estate plan. Whitney Houston did that. She bought a schlocky will that didn’t protect her assets from her daughter’s creditors, estate taxes, and probate. Please spend the money to get it done right. It’s really not that much in the scheme of things.
- Plan for a very long life. I know you want to leave our kids your accumulated wealth, but think of yourself first. We’re all living longer lives and, even though we’re not “in love” anymore, I do care about you and your welfare. Create a wealth plan that will give you a lifelong, passive income.
- Make sure you have disability insurance. Your ability to earn is your greatest asset. Nothing will diminish your wealth and put you in poverty quicker than not being able to earn money anymore. Even if you don’t need care, if you couldn’t work, you would run through savings quickly and may have to cheap out on things like your lifestyle, vacations, and even necessities like good, wholesome food or the roof over your head. Please don’t let that happen to our kids or to you.
- Get long-term care insurance. The person who is going to live to 150 is believed to have already been born! People will routinely live to be over 100, and that could be you. Long-term care is expensive, and it’s only going to get more so. Since you’re over 50 and in good health, consider buying a LTC policy on you or a rider on your life insurance policy.
- Name a guardian for our kids and ask me who I named. We might be able to agree still on that. Of course, I’ve taken care of my guardianship nomination, but if I didn’t, our kids would be subject to a guardianship proceeding, and you and I both know that would be bad because our families would duke it out. You can even do that for free online at www.kidsprotectionplan.com. With that resource, there’s really no reason not to do that at the very least.
- When you decide to remarry, get guidance from an attorney in advance because remarriage can cause complications to your planning. I’m sure you’ve heard of assets going to a spouse instead of to kids, and while you may eventually want that, don’t let that happen by accident or oversight.
- Make sure you have your own healthcare documents in place, naming your agent for medical decision-making. Don’t name the kids as your agents until they are legally capable, over 18 and emotionally able to handle the job.
- Check with your attorney and your retirement account custodian to see if I need to sign any waiver to your retirement accounts. In some cases, if you haven’t remarried, as your previous spouse, I may retain some rights in a 401(k) or similar account that you may have had when we were married. I know that’s not what you want, and that’s okay.
- Most importantly, shoot a video of yourself telling the kids your life story. Tell them about how we met and what you liked about me. Tell them that it’s not their fault that we didn’t work out, but that we did have some awesome times together. Tell them about your biggest life lessons, your values, your setbacks, and your victories. Tell them what a terrific businessperson you are and how you learned to be that. Tell them about your favorite hobbies and what you’re good at. Tell them what you love about them and how blessed you are that we brought them into the world.
So, dear Ex, I do want the best for our kids and I hope you consider my wishes so that if something did happen to you, they’d be okay. I promise that if something did, I would do everything in my power to make sure they’re able to heal, to thrive and to honor you every day of their lives.
With love, Your Ex
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