“King Lear’s tragedy can teach us about estate planning,” observes California attorney Ralph Hughes. The estate planning lesson Hughes suggests we need to keep in mind is simply this: You won’t always be master of your kingdom.

But these are your assets. Shouldn’t you have the right to control who receives those assets after your death?  Shouldn’t you be able to put some stipulations and conditions into your estate plan, so that particular beneficiaries will receive an inheritance only if they meet certain expectations?  The legal answer is “yes.”

King Lear, Hughes reminds us, wanted to implement a thoughtful estate plan that divided his kingdom among his three devoted and loving daughters, so that, as Shakespeare puts it, “future strife may be prevented now” (Act I Scene 1).

But we are fools, Hughes asserts, if we believe that any estate plan that ignores the human beings involved will stand the test of time.  In King Lear’s case, the daughters threw Lear out and  he never regained his power.  The members of the younger generation exiled Lear and began implementing their own agendas in the kingdom.

Conditions in a will can be divided into two general categories:

  1. Conditions precedent make a gift contingent upon the happening of a specific event. Not unless and until the event occurs will the gift take place. One condition for an heir might be achieving a certain level of schooling.
  2. Conditions subsequent make the gift contingent on the continuation of a particular situation, such as abstaining from alcohol or drug use.

The point Hughes makes is that human relationships are not static, and the younger generation will not always follow the path that parents or grandparents envision, even when conditional clauses are included in carefully thought-out estate plans.
At Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, including conditional provisions in wills and trusts and creating spendthrift trusts to protect assets from beneficiaries’ creditors are just two examples of estate planning strategies we use to help our clients keep control of “the kingdom”.

Still, as estate planners must understand, a healthy view involves a willingness to let go and to trust the younger generation to pursue their own path in life.

– by Corrina A Smith of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates