The Legacy of the Childless – Who is Included in the Estate Plan?

While many families struggle with the issues relating to being fair verses being equal in relation to estate planning and their children, childless couples struggle with other important issues.

For those individuals or families, who by choice or by consequence have not had children, they have different issues and challenges, which require thought and deliberation.

These issues surround their legacy and include the planning of their estate. For example, should it just be taken for granted that other members of the family should inherit the bulk of the estate? How distant need these relationships be before consideration is given to other alternatives or to the inclusion of charitable intent?

While many extended families are close and relationships can be strong even over considerable distance, this is not always the case. For childless couples, some pressure may be felt to leave the results of a lifetime of work and effort to some very tenuous generational threads. If there is no real relationship, it is often more rewarding and more personal to consider the positive impact of creating a living legacy, through establishing a family foundation and beginning the work of the foundation straight away.

As in all these situations we advocate the use of dominant values as the core in coming to understand what is important to the individuals or to the couple. The development of these core values following the concept of a reflected life process will help identify the dominant issues and the critical benefactors of the legacy. If you know what is important and then who is important then the legacy becomes the transmission of what is important to who is important. This allows the foundation, as a legacy, to be considered and introduced during life and developed over time.

For example, if an individual feels it is important to pass on their family name and no children present then the legacy could be continued through using other identified values. For example if education is identified as another core value, then a family foundation could offer support by way of bursaries or scholarships under the family name, as seen in the Rhodes scholarships. This can be a very powerful tool for the transmission of a legacy.

Couples using this process may identify common values or interests that solidify their relationship. Their legacy could include creating a foundation for helping others following these values and interests. Often childless couples have groups of friends who are in similar situations and the development of causes supported by the foundation can be linked. The couples benefit tremendously and at the same time are engaged in the worthwhile interest of helping others. The roles of trustees for the foundation can be shared among the group and deeper stronger relationships develop.

It is important that where aging and deteriorating health could create potential problems that consideration be given to introducing other trustees or to corporate trustees. Foundations can exist for periods up to 80 years, which is longer than the life spans for most adult trustees.

While many charities are looking for large donors and while many individuals will want to make one big gesture, this is not the ideal situation for the development of a living legacy. The living legacy position is the active involvement in the development of the legacy during life and the growth and understanding which comes from personal involvement.

As well, the charity (if charitable intent is a part of the legacy) also gains an advocate interested and involved in the development of the work of the charity. The benefactor becomes an important contributor to the work, and someone who can and most likely will, influence many others over a period of time. For the charity, this is important strategically, one large donation and the funds are dispersed, while an ongoing relationship gives so much more potential to what can be achieved over the medium to long term.