On August 18, 2016 at 2:00 PM I am honored to be speaking at a local Chinese Community Event promoted by AmWest Chinese Post and hosted by Annie White, who will be translating for me. I will be specifically addressing estate planning and succession issues for families that have both strong traditional values and children who have grown up immersed in American culture.
Years ago, I met with a potential client that had immigrated from Asia to escape the great conflicts of the last century. They had a large family and a large multi-million dollar estate. In order to avoid probate, they had named their oldest child as the Joint Tenant with Rights of Survivorship on all their properties and financial assets. When I raised the concern that this would disinherit the other children in their family, they kindly told me that they were a traditional family. Their oldest child knew her duty. She would share the estate equally with all her siblings without being compelled to do so by the law. They treated my suggestion that further planning was needed as a failure to understand and disregard for their culture and values. They declined to set up a trust or do any other planning.
Later, after they had passed away, one of their younger children contacted me again. He wanted help to resolve a family dispute. He told me that his oldest sister had possession of all the family property and financial assets and was not sharing it with or taking care of any of the other family members. When I reached out to the oldest sister, this is what she said. “Mom and Dad wanted me to have the property. That is why they named me as the beneficiary and Joint Tenant with Rights of Survivorship. If Mom and Dad had wanted any of the other family members to have any part of their estate, they would have named them as beneficiaries. Everything is mine, and I am going to keep it.”
The oldest child kept everything. The others got nothing. Legally, there was nothing they could do. The family was blown apart. Conflict, anger, acrimony, resentment, accusations, and retribution became the defining characteristics of the family relationships. Now, years later, many of them have still not spoken to each other. The ancient and venerable traditions the family brought with them from the country of their ancestors were displaced by new and disruptive practices of greed and selfishness. The problem was not entirely the fault of the children. It was their parents who failed to plan for reality.
Sadly, what the parents had not realized was that in spite of their strong traditional values, their daughter had grown up in America culture. She did not speak her parent’s language, and did not respect their values and wishes. In her mind, she justified her actions as being what her parents wanted. But I knew otherwise.
Strong traditional values are one of the most important factors in an effective estate plan. They give texture and meaning to all the protection that can be built into the planning structures. Without such traditional values, the estate planning is just an meaningless shell for holding money. At the same time, the estate plan only benefits from such traditional values when there is a legal and structural framework to put those values into action.
Proactive law, preventive law, and Dynasty Estate planning are all about giving real world effect to the values and traditions of a family. If we protect and preserve the wealth but destroy the family, we have failed. If we protect and preserve the family, protecting the wealth because much simpler and more meaningful.