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05-2017 | How Much Should You Leave for Your Heirs?

How Much Should You Leave for Your Heirs? (Published 05-2017)

Many clients, regardless of net worth and income, are starting to deal with this question. How much is enough to leave for my children and other heirs?Heirs | Generational Estate Planning | Trustee Selection

Bill Gates has said that he will not leave a lot of money to his heirs because he does not think it would be good for them. His friend Warren Buffet has been quoted as saying that the perfect amount to leave children is enough so they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.

Over the last few years, we have noticed more and more of our clients focusing on this idea.

Here are a few examples of questions you may want to consider when thinking about this issue:


  • Do you want them to be independent?
  • Would you like to fund education, help with the purchase of a first home or invest in a startup business?
  • Do you want them to have access to capital for investments or lifestyle improvements?
  • Do you want them to be able to retire early if they desire?
  • Would you want to help support a child or grandchild who decided to dedicate their lives to mission work, which typically is low or unpaid?
  • Would you want to support them in pursuit of an artistic career, if so, how much?
  • If you have a special needs grandchild, do you have enough to provide for both your children and your special needs grandchild?


  • How do you want to pass on values and lifetime experience to your heirs?
  • How much do you want them to learn life lessons on their own?
  • How will leaving an inheritance help or hinder these non-financial goals?
  • Do you want your family to work together through the generations?
  • Is there a way to help teach life skills such as leadership, collaborative decision making, accountability, and conflict resolution?

Many wealthy families do not spend a significant amount of time on defining these goals and so their estate plans are not reflective of their true wishes. Estate plans can be drafted to meet most any personal family goal.

Are your heirs prepared?

This can be a major issue as most families have not put to the test what will happen when their children receive a large amount of money. If this is the first time children or grandchildren have dealt with a large sum, will they have the experience to manage it and the discipline to control the urge to spend?

Will your planning bring family members closer together?

Sometimes a certain plan will cause disharmony among family members, such as when children receive unequal inheritances or different distributions. Unexplained, these differences can lead to dissention.

The solution is not necessarily to treat everyone the same. Rather, to make sure that the reasons for certain decisions are communicated in a clear and thoughtful manner.

What else might you do with your money?

For some clients, leaving money to heirs is not enough. They may also want to leave money to other beneficiaries including charities, schools, parks, art organizations and more.

If this is an issue you would like to explore, we can help you identify the things in life you are passionate about and then helping to design structures that will allow you to support those passions.

Matthew V. Piwowar is a Grand Rapids estate planning attorney.  Mr. Piwowar is a member of the State Bar of Michigan, and the State Bar Probate & Estate Planning Section, the National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys, and the Michigan Forum of Estate Planners.


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