Jun 13, 2015

Should parents tell their adult children what's in their estate plan?

A recent article in Wealth Management attempts to answer the question, Should parents tell their adult children about their   estate planning? Author Avi Kestenbaum advises against it, noting, "the parents are essentially begging their children to complain to them: 'Why am I getting this, or why can’t I have more or have it sooner?' Also, 'Why is that sibling getting this?' ” 

Let me weigh in on this. I agree with Kestenbaum that telling children about specific amounts and specific assets has its risks. But that doesn't mean that it's always the wrong approach, or that you can't give your children a general idea of what to expect. How much to tell, if anything, is highly personal and must be determined by your own comfort level, your assessment of your child's temperament and maturity level, and the family dynamic. Is your child responsible and hard-working, and will remain so no matter what? Do you have a child who may be inclined to get lazy if she expects a windfall? If one child is getting more than the other and you let them know, how will that knowledge affect their relationship with one another, and with you? Do you have a disabled child whose siblings will be involved in that child's future and therefore must know about the plans you are making for that child?

Just remember, you are under no obligation to tell your adult children about what you're leaving to whom. For that matter, you are not obligated to leave them anything at all! It is all up to you.
One parent-adult child discussion that is NOT optional concerns the parent's incapacity. I urge my clients to talk to their children about their incapacity plans, since more than likely they are relying on the children to step up to the plate if incapacity strikes. Discuss with your child your health care preferences, how you want your finances managed, and point your child in the direction of the documents (health care power of attorney, living will, durable power of attorney, etc.) that will give him the legal authority to manage your affairs. I am always sympathetic when I get a call from an adult child whose parent never prepared him for this eventuality. Not only is the child upset over the parent's health crisis, but is also feeling disoriented and unprepared to handle the parent's legal, financial and health issues. Talk to your child in advance - it's only fair to him, and you, that he know what will be expected of him!

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