We often note in our posts that when leaving an inheritance to children, “equal” is not always “fair.” This applies if your children are adults, and it also applies if one or more of your children are minors. A prudent estate planning strategy for young families – the common pot trust – perfectly illustrates this principle.
For example, let’s say you have two children. One is in high school, the other in elementary school. If you and your children’s other parent die, you want both children’s individual needs to be met as they grow. An estate plan that divides their inheritances equally may seem logical, but this is not really a practical approach. In all likelihood, each child will have different needs going forward, requiring different levels of support. Here are some examples of disparities that could arise:
- Your younger child requires an expensive life-saving medicine for the balance of his life. Your older child has no such health issues at present.
- One child is determined to go to medical school and has been working toward that goal. You want to make sure she has all the financial resources necessary to pay for her education.
- You have already paid for your older child’s college education, but not yet for the younger’s. An equal distribution of your assets would effectively be an economic windfall for the older child, and a disadvantage for the younger.
Here’s the main point: Every child’s needs are different, and dividing an inheritance equally may not be the best way to make sure each one’s needs are met.
A Better Approach: The Common Pot Trust
The better approach is to establish a common pot trust, with all your children as beneficiaries. The trust gives your trustee discretion to expend funds for each child according to each child’s individual needs for health, maintenance and welfare. Most parents provide for the trust to be dissolved, and the assets equally distributed among the children, when the youngest reaches a certain age, often 21, or when the youngest graduates from a four-year university, whichever occurs first.
If there is a particularly large age difference among your children, you probably don’t want your older children waiting years – until the younger siblings attain age 21 – to access their inheritance, should they need it. For instance, suppose your youngest child has not yet graduated high school. The older child has been working full-time for several years and could make good use of his inheritance for a down payment on a starter home. This potential issue can be addressed by giving the trustee discretion to release funds to the older children if circumstances warrant it.
Plainly put, a common pot trust does in the event of your death exactly what you would do for your children in life: provide for each according to their individual needs.
If you are the parent of minor children, our attorneys will be happy to talk with you about setting up an estate plan to protect them. Call us for a consultation at (561) 625-1100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.