When news breaks that multiple celebrities within a month’s time are cutting their kids out of their estate plans, it’s not hard to see which way the wind is blowing…
Not wanting their children to be unmotivated “trust fund” brats that don’t “do anything” productive with their lives seems to be a growing sentiment. This is a belief that I’ve encountered numerous times with some of my wealthier clients, so is certainly not just limited to the uber wealthy or celebrity parents.
Certainly, these seem to be noble intentions. But I think these beliefs highlight key myths about trusts — especially revocable living trusts — that simply are not true, and I have found that after some strategic and creative planning, my clients’ fears are usually assuaged. So they may be super celebrities but Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sting, and Anderson Cooper have much to learn when it comes to taking the advice of professionals.
Reports have surfaced that Seymour- Hoffman repeatedly rejected the advice of his attorney and accountant, both of whom advised him to create trusts. Apparently, Hoffman said he didn’t want his three children to be “trust funds kids.” Instead, he felt their mother — and his longtime girlfriend — would take care of them. Sadly, because of Hoffman’s aversion to proper estate planning, his 34 million dollar estate faces a huge estate tax bill and other problems that could (and should) have been avoided if he had listened to the legal and financial advice he was given.
A few months ago, former Police lead singer, Sting, expressed a similar sentiment. Like Hoffman, he did not want his kids (he has six) to have trust funds. Sting told a paper in Britain’s that he felt trust funds would be an “albatross around their necks.” While he wants to help them if they are in trouble, he wants them to have their own work ethic.
To round it out, recently Anderson Cooper revealed that he will not be inheriting any money from his wealthy mother, Gloria Vanderbilt.
The heiress, (turned jeans and perfume designer) is the great-great-great-granddaughter of the railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. Gloria, who is now 90-years-old, has an estimated personal wealth of about $200 million but her youngest son Anderson is not expecting to get any of that when she dies.
Vanderbilt has made clear to Cooper that there’s no trust fund and Cooper seems alright with that saying: “I don’t believe in inheriting money… I think it’s an initiative sucker. I think it’s a curse.”
So, if you are of the same mindset like Hoffman, Sting, Vanderbilt, or Cooper here are a couple things an estate planning attorney usually does to to easy your worries:
- Tie distributions to “ages” and “stages”. Think back to when you were 20 years old. Would you have been emotionally and intellectually mature enough to handle a large inheritance? Many parents create their trust so that their kids get a small amount of money each year and larger amounts when they reach certain ages (commonly: 30, 35, 40). They will also allow for trust distributions to pay for college expenses, weddings, or house down payments. A popular strategy is to distribute income from the trust assets when the kids are young and then to distribute principal when they are older and have greater financial sophistication.
- Use incentive trusts. The fear of many parents (and apparently Sting, Hoffman and even Warren Buffet) is that too much money can squash ambition and drive. The image that keeps parents up at night is the idea that their kids will be robbed of zeal to make an impact. The solution for many parents is to use incentives within a trust rather than leaving a large inheritance outright. The incentives can be as creative as you can imagine. For example, a common incentive calls for trust distributions that match the child’s income. If Lisa makes $100,000 from her job, the trust will distribute to her $100,000 each year. If her younger brother Chad spends too much time playing Xbox (like my youngest sister) and only makes $25,000 a year, the trust will distribute just $25,000 to him. The built-in incentive with this clause is, of course, to make money. But what, you say if instead, Lisa wants to join the Peace Corps? You can add language that will ensure distributions if your child is involved in a non-profit.
Again, the sky is the limit when it comes to drafting who gets what and when. We tailor it to your values as a parent – it’s your money and you have total control. For clients that really value education for example, in my office I often build educational incentives in parents’ and grandparents’ trusts that are designed to reward the beneficiaries’ educational accomplishments. The trustee might be directed to disburse $10,000 upon attainment of a Bachelor’s degree and $20,000 upon attainment of a Master’s or Doctorate degree. On the other hand if you want your children to continue with the family business, we can draft incentives for that too.
As a parent, you want what is best for your kids. It’s natural and reasonable to worry how a large inheritance will affect their drive and choices for life. With some planning, money can be a tool that enriches their lives rather than an anchor that drags them down.