You’ve probably heard about the unique estate planning of Saginaw, MI resident Wellington R. Burt.  If not, you can read an article about it here. Mr. Burt was very well off, under any definition, but that is not what makes his story interesting.  What makes his story interesting is how he used estate planning to accomplish specific goals for reasons important to him.

What did he do?  He made sure that his fortune would bypass his children and grandchildren.  Instead it would be distributed to his living heirs 21 years after the death of his youngest grandchild living at the time that he passed away.

I’ve heard many conversations about this case, both in person and online, many of which are demonizing Mr. Burt for “not caring for his family” or being an “old curmudgeon.”   What many people don’t realize is that estate planning is all about your goals, desires and wishes, not those of others.  And I believe that more families would have unique plans like Mr. Burt’s (ok, maybe not totally skipping 2 generations) if they only knew it was possible.  That’s why it’s important to work with an estate planning attorney who gets to know you, your family, your wishes and desires, and counsels you through various planning approaches based on what’s important to you . . . not what fits in the attorney’s standard form!

Think about it.  Warren Buffett – he has publicly said that his family will receive only a small portion of his estate, the vast majority of which will go to charity.  Bill and Melinda Gates have expressed the same plan.  Sure, even a portion of those estates is a large amount of money, but nowhere near what they could have received.

And this is not uncommon among “normal” folks like you and me.  Why?  Because each family is unique and each plan should match the family in uniqueness.  For example, some parents will “disinherit” a child who is a physician or business owner.  Most folks have a very negative reaction to that . . . but the reason was that the child made enough money and didn’t need any more.  In fact, the child was in favor of being skipped, because a sibling was much more in need.

So maybe your wishes, values and goals don’t call for disinheriting two generations of your family like Mr. Burt’s.  However, I encourage you to think of the sky as the limit, no goal is off the table, when you do your planning.  That way you can have the peace of mind and comfort of knowing you have truly created a lasting legacy.

Oh yeah . . . one more thing.  This story points out an “unsung” benefit of using trusts in your planning.  In large part we know about Mr. Burt’s story because he used a Will.  A Will goes through the probate process and guess what?  That process is public.  By planning with a fully funded living trust (or other types of trusts) you can maintain your family’s privacy.

Wondering how YOUR family can have an estate plan based on who you are and what’s most important to you?  Give us a call at 616-827-7596 to schedule a Peace of Mind Planning Session and find out.  Mention this blog post and we’ll waive the Planning Session fee (a $750 value!)

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning and business planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for finances – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on estate and asset protection planning for  the “experienced” generation, the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned businesses, cottage planning and pet planning.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.