Feb 8, 2010

How NOT to tell your kids about your estate plan

What's yours, will eventually be mine. This is the typical attitude of most adult children. I see it all the time in my Florida elder law practice. Most adult children assume that they will inherit their parents' assets, in equal shares with their siblings. And with today's economic pressures, many adult children may well be depending on their inheritances more than ever.

But what if you're a parent with a different plan? Suppose you intend to leave your struggling daughter much more than her financially successful brother - and perhaps nothing at all to their sibling who for years has had nothing to do with you? After all, it's your money. You're entitled to do what you want with it, right?

The worst way for children to learn they're getting an unequal distribution -- or maybe nothing at all -- is after you're gone. Springing the news on them like this is more likely to precipitate a legal challenge to your estate by the child who feels wronged. The wronged child may feel that the parent was pressured by another sibling, or that the parent was not really aware of what he/she was doing. Letting your kids hear the news after you're gone also increases the likelihood that siblings will turn on one another... certainly not the kind of legacy you want to leave behind.

As difficult as it may be for you, the best thing to do is to have a heart-to-heart talk with your children. Let them know your intentions. In a New York Times article, Michael Gans of Hofstra University says, "Kids do get angry at being cut off, but if you say nothing their anger will be directed not at you, but at the favored child. You need to ask yourself, 'Why should this kid be the target of the anger?' Why would you do that to them?" Full article.

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