In the Unlikely Event of an Emergency. . .

If you have thought about your final wishes at all, you have probably thought about who you want to be the beneficiary of your property upon your death; your spouse, your children, or maybe your grandchildren. But as estate planning attorneys, we will ask you to think a little beyond that, to plan for what is sometimes referred to as “the natural disaster at the family picnic.”

It can be terrible to think about, but if you and your spouse and children were all to die together, who would inherit the family wealth? These are called your remote contingent beneficiaries. If you have not specified any remote contingent beneficiaries, the state decides who your beneficiaries will be. Usually it is your heirs at law; your closest lineal ancestor(s) who can be located by the state—aunts or uncles, second cousins, etc.

However, you do not have to accept the state’s choices. This is a situation where couples can really consider who or what their priorities are beyond their immediate family. Many people choose to list their favorite charities as their remote contingent beneficiaries. Some people list their dear friends. Others choose to use their estate to set up scholarships in their names at their alma mater.

Most people know that the “natural disaster at the family picnic” is a far-fetched situation. The chance that your estate will ever go to your remote contingent beneficiaries is, well . . . remote. But the very fact that it is so unlikely can take the pressure off, and give people the freedom to be completely candid about what kind of legacy they want to leave.

In such a situation, what will your legacy be?