Here’s a first! I new estate planning client asked me the other day the following surprising question: What happens when the Rapture comes? Where does my estate go?
I was taken aback for sure but I hope I did not show it. I’m only vaguely familiar with the religious theory of the rapture from hearing about Harold Camping. As she explained to me (and as I have not independently verified!) the end of the world will come and only those who are “saved” might be spared. She said that people will remain on earth but many people will die, especially those who are not saved. She surmises that even the institutions of government will be decimated.
Being Jewish, I am not terribly familiar with this idea. I also surmise that the client, had she known my religious persuasion, would have advised me to join her so that I might survive! However, I try to keep these types of things at arm's length.
I advised her that if none of her named beneficiaries, or their children, survived we could have a “back up” clause that would pass her assets to other family members or we could rely on “the laws of intestacy” which in NJ would have passed her assets to her brother or more distant relatives. I told her that if no family beyond that could be located it is possible the estate would “escheat” to the state. She commented that there might be no state! True perhaps, and I’m not in the business of conjecture so the answer is: after all that fire and brimstone I have no idea who would take the estate!
While to many this scenario is far-fetched it does bring up the point that we need to plan for all types of contingencies. When people are planning their estates they need to plan for maybe the next 5-10 years but also keep in mind “catastrophic” events and at least put pen to paper as to what they want to see happen to their assets. If there is some 3rd cousin you do not like the chances are low they would ever get your money, but you could still cut them out! More to the point, you should be working with an attorney who will at least take you through the mental exercise of understanding the law of unintended consequences. And if you have no estate plan to dispose of your assets you are giving up the control the law allows. I sort of laughed this conversation off, but if you see a guy with a suit on and a hard hat walking the streets of Philadelphia, it might not be a construction worker.