Q: My husband and I are in our 70s and leaning toward not leaving our estate to our children. They don’t need it, and there is a charitable cause that we just feel needs it more. How do we communicate that to our family? — Ethel (via email)
A: Ethel, multiple surveys show that around 95 percent of adult children have no problem with their parents' estate distribution plans. You earned it, and you get to decide where it goes when you’re gone.
That said, you are clearly aware that there are probably some assumptions among your children that they will be getting money so you need to make sure that you are communicating your plans now to avoid some hurt feelings after you’re gone. And the longer you wait, the more risk you have of your children making financial decisions based on their assumptions. Just because you’re not leaving them financial assets doesn’t mean that you want to place them in a difficult position because of choices they made.
If you are passionate about this charitable cause, it’s good to start sharing that passion with your family now. The more they see how important it is to you, the more sense it will make to them when you tell them that that is where your estate is going. And this communication will address a huge chunk of the issue that traditionally causes squabbles.
The other concern among family members in a conversation like this is outdated wishes. Today, you see family members who don’t need your financial assets. But you could live another 20-plus years. And presumably, you will outlive your children. If one of your children finds themselves in a situation 15 years from now with which you could have assisted by leaving them an inheritance but you are no longer able to make changes to your plan (for medical reasons, for instance), you may regret the decision that today seems selfless and altruistic.
As long as you consider those two concerns and leave enough behind to pay for final expenses and maybe a token amount to thank the person(s) who fulfilled their duty as executor or trustee, you should be fine. Oh, side note ... as someone who has worked in planned giving myself, make sure you talk to the charitable organization that will be receiving that windfall and verify that they are equipped to handle it the way that you want them to. It’s always nice to be able to recognize and publicly thank such generous supporters while you’re still alive.
Q: I am so tired of constantly walking around the house shutting off lights behind the rest of my family all the live-long day. Is it worth it to change to expensive light bulbs and switches to save on electricity?? — Hannah (via Twitter)
A: Hannah, the short answer is that it might be. If you’re not able to get your family members to change their habits (and there is a lot of psychology involved in that question, all of which says nagging is pointless), switching from one 60w incandescent to a 12w LED can save you around $5.30 over 1000 hrs. This is the amount of time that that the Department of Energy estimates a typical household light bulb is left on in a year. Assuming the American average of 40 light bulbs in a home, you can reap $212/yr. in savings from making this change. At a purchase price of maybe around $4/bulb, you can change out every bulb in your house and recover the cost of doing so in 9 months flat.
You also mentioned light switches, and I’m assuming you mean things like motion-sensor switches that will shut off when the room is empty. At around $20 each — and presumably these would only go in the rooms where the lights are most commonly left on — a four-bulb fixture with 12w LED bulbs would have to be left on for 3,800 hrs. above the national average to make the expense worth it. And while I’m sure it feels like they all are to energy-hawks like you and I, I encourage you to look at it objectively before you spend the money.
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— Eric Litwiller has spent the last nine years of his professional career helping people achieve their financial goals through the use of budgets, retirement vehicles and estate planning options. He is a firm believer in the importance of using Earthly riches to fulfill a mission of Christian stewardship. Eric is not a licensed financial planner.