Whether To Leave Percentages or Specific Amounts To Your Heirs or Beneficiaries

Was working with a family today from Metairie who wanted to leave a bequest to many difference grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even certain step=grandchildren. They also wanted to leave the bulk of what they had to their five children when they died.

They asked me whether they should leave a specific amount to these descendants who were at least two generations below them (say, for example, $25,000 to each one), and leave the rest of their estate to be divided equally among their five children. We discussed, however, the alternative of leaving a large portion (say, for example, 75% to be divided equally among their five children, and leaving the remaining 25% to be divided equally among the specific grandchildren and great-grandchildren that they wanted to benefit.

These kinds of estate planning decisions can be tricky. Generally, if someone wants to leave others a small amount, designed primarily to acknowledge the recipient, we usually see them leave a specific dollar amount to those beneficiaries or heirs. This is, perhaps, a simpler way to acknowledge a recipient. It gets more complicated when you leave each of several people 1% or 2% of your estate - the recipient might want to review accountings to make sure they are getting the correct amount. But if you leave someone a fixed amount like $10,000, it does not matter how large the overall estate is, the recipient will get his $10,000, whether the overall estate totals $300,000 or $3,000,000.

If you are wanting to leave each of several people a significant amount of your estate, then perhaps it's easier to leave each of them a percentage of the overall estate. For example, if you want to leave a substantial bequest to your two children and your three grandchildren, then perhaps you would leave 20% of your estate to each of the five. If, for example, you leave $200,000 to each of your three grandchildren, and leave the balance to be split among your two children, and if your estate does not exceed $600,000 when you die, then your children will get nothing because the specific bequests ate up the entire estate.

Your decision to leave specific dollar bequests versus a percentage of the estate is both important and tricky. Your estate will likely fluctuate in value from the time you put your estate planning legal program in place, until the time you pass away and your program plays out. This is a good reason to review your estate planning program every few years and, if necessary, work with your estate planning attorney to keep it current.