Five tips for handing down your wealth

Wealth transfer

You’ve spent a lifetime building your estate. Now it’s time to decide how it will be distributed.


Handing down your wealth is not as simple as writing a check or naming a beneficiary; you want to make the best decisions to preserve your financial legacy. Thomas Brockley, senior vice president and branch director at RBC Wealth Management, shares some tips on how to maximize your giving and ensure your wishes are followed.

1. Explore charitable remainder trusts

When donating to charity, structure your gift carefully to help your recipient receive the most from your bequest, Brockley advised. If you’re donating highly appreciated assets, such as stocks, you may wish to work with the charity and your financial advisor to set up a charitable remainder trust.

With a charitable remainder trust, the stock is removed from your taxable estate and held in a trust while you’re alive, then transferred to the charity when you pass away, he said. During your lifetime, you’ll get an income stream and receive an income-tax deduction for the value of the gift in the year it was given.

While a charitable remainder trust is ideal for highly appreciated assets such as stocks and real estate, you also can fund the trust with cash.

2. Keep it in the family

If you’re passing a family business to the next generation, you may want to consider a life insurance trust, Brockley said. Whether your estate includes prime Manhattan real estate, a family dairy farm or a chain of retail stores, a number of taxes and fees will need to be paid—such as insurance premiums, mortgage payments, property taxes, utilities and accounting fees—while your estate is still being settled. A life insurance trust will provide the funds for your heirs to pay those bills.

For real estate bequests (if you are passing down a family vacation home, for example), consider establishing an irrevocable personal residence trust. Assets placed in such a trust count against the federal $5.43 million gift tax exclusion. The value of the property increases outside your estate and estate taxes are based on the value of the property at the time it was placed in the trust. Adding life insurance in the trust will ensure your heirs receive funds to pay the immediate bills and taxes on the property.

3. Set guidelines

An old accounting maxim says, “Trust, but verify.” In this case, the wording could be changed to, “Create a trust, but specify.”

To set guidelines on how and when an inheritance will be spent, you can set up trusts for your children and grandchildren—as opposed to making direct monetary bequests. Careful wording in the trust will help further ensure your heirs don’t fritter away the estate you spent years building. Language in the trust can clearly spell out what the money can be spent on (college) and cannot be spent on (a new Porsche, Botox or trip to Tahiti), Brockley said.

“You probably don’t want a grandchild at age 19 to get a million dollars to spend however they want to,” he warned.

He’s seen it happen. One young client spent $50,000 of a quarter-million dollar inheritance in just a couple of weeks, he said. The client bought a car, wrecked it the next day and then bought another one.

4. Consider a corporate trust manager

Choosing the right trustee is also key. A family member may be your best option for a smaller estate, but if the estate is larger than $500,000, you might be better off hiring a corporate trust manager, Brockley advised. That corporate trust manager will ensure that requests for funds are only approved if they fit within the trust parameters.

“You could have nieces and nephews going to their uncle and saying ‘I know I was only supposed to get X but I need more,’” Brockley said. “If the uncle says no, you have one less guest at the Christmas table. The corporate trustee can say, ‘Here are the rules and that’s it.’”

5. Check names

Finally, it may sound basic, but periodically check the beneficiaries on your accounts to make sure your estate goes to the right people, said Brockley. That’s an easy step that people often ignore.

“A young person’s first insurance policy might name their mother as beneficiary,” he said. “Now they’re married and have two kids. You have $100,000 of insurance going to the mother. The mother can’t give all the proceeds to the daughter-in-law because of gifting limits.”

With the right plan in place, your estate will be passed along according to your wishes, and your loved ones and favorite causes will all benefit.

This article was originally published on Forbes WealthVoice.

RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, registered investment adviser and Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.

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