It’s probably not something you think about every day—or that's especially pleasant to contemplate at any time—but the fact remains: without a thoughtfully constructed estate plan, there is a significant risk of your assets ending up in unintended hands upon your passing. By executing a thorough, binding will that spells out exactly how you want your estate handled, you can ensure that your assets are distributed properly.
Passing It On
The typical plain vanilla, boilerplate will that leaves “everything to my children” does little to ensure that one's grandchildren benefit upon the death of their parent, as opposed to that parent's spouse. Even if I love my son- or daughter-in-law, I may not wish to have my assets commingled with those of his or her new spouse.
Therefore, it is advisable to direct that assets, otherwise passing to a child who predeceases me, go instead to one's grandchildren. This is easily accomplished by adding the words “per stirpes” (which is the Latin term for “through the roots”) after the name of a beneficiary. If, for example, my entire estate goes to my sons, Mark and John, per stirpes, then Mark and John's children—and not my sons' respective spouses—will take Mark and John's share in the event that either son predeceases me.
The more common concern involves ensuring that one's grandchildren ultimately benefit, even if their parents survive the grandparent. For example, if my son John dies after me, what can be done to prevent his wife (likely John's primary beneficiary under his will) from inheriting what were originally my assets?