Inheritance questions parents are afraid to answer

top-secret-folder-md-150x150Last week’s column explored three fears that stop adult children from talking with parents about their estate plans, even though such conversations could greatly benefit both generations. These are: “It’s none of my business,” “I don’t want them to think I am greedy,” and, “It will ruin our relationship.”

Children aren’t alone in their fear of approaching this topic. Most parents are just as reluctant—and for the same basic reasons. In my experience, parents’ biggest reasons for not talking with kids about legacy intentions are: “It’s none of their business,” “If I share financial information, they will take advantage of me,” and “Talking about money will hurt our relationship.”

Let’s look at each of these:

“It’s none of their business.” This is certainly true, unless you’ve made it their business. If you name a child as an executor of a will, a successor trustee of a trust, or an agent in a Durable Power of Attorney, you have made it that child’s business to know your business.

To throw a child into suddenly having to make financial decisions in your best interest without knowing what they must manage, where assets are held, and what your wishes are is unfair to both you and your child. Any time you put someone in a position of authority in any of your estate documents, it’s essential to carefully go through the document with them and to disclose details of the assets they will make decisions on. Start with showing them your financial statements, the contact information of your trusted advisors, and a listing of where you hold all your accounts.

If you feel you can’t trust a child with such information today, then why do you feel you can trust them as your agent or executor tomorrow? If you don’t trust a child, you’re better off to name a bank trust office or trust company to these positions.

“If I share financial information, they will take advantage of me.” This fear may be justified if your child has a history of taking advantage of you. If not, they probably aren’t going to start now. Preparing a child for an inheritance is not only prudent, it’s also a loving act of kindness you can give your child.

I have worked with several families where children had no idea of their parents’ net worth. In every case, it was much higher than the kids ever imagined. Suddenly, they learned they were about to inherit hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in various investments they knew nothing about. I witnessed these heirs try to cope with a plethora of emotions and money scripts, in addition to needing to learn the mechanics of managing a portfolio of investments. Without proper preparation, it’s not uncommon for what parents intended as a loving gift of wealth to turn into a destructive force of misery.

“Talking about money will hurt our relationship.” Parents are just as terrified to have money conversations with their kids as kids are afraid to talk with them. And no wonder—it’s parents who teach kids the no-talk rule in the first place.

As parents, you can exercise the wisdom of age and begin the family money conversations. It may be helpful to have the first meeting with your financial planner or estate attorney, or engage the help of a financial therapist. You might be amazed to find that talking with your kids about money in a straightforward and healthy way can actually help your relationships.

Do your kids a favor and break the no-talk rule. It’s a gift to both generations.

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