In my experience as an advisor, clients often face challenges around estate planning. It’s not just the fear of the unknown, it’s not knowing even where to start. Leaving your heirs an organized, thoughtful estate plan can be a genuine gift. Your loved ones will already be reeling from losing you, and the last thing they’ll want to work though is an administrative quagmire that could have been avoided with some proactiveness.
Unlike many other areas of financial planning where the benefits may be felt directly by you or your partner, estate planning is often strategizing for somebody other than yourself. You are actively working on a financial plan you won’t ever see the benefit of personally, and that selflessness can be very rewarding.
But what happens if, for a variety of reasons, you don’t feel entirely confident or comfortable giving all of your estate to your adult children? Let’s explore how to create an estate plan when you aren’t sure about the best way to support your children’s long-term success.
Focus on what matters most.
Navigating a Challenging Parent-Child Relationship in Estate Planning
There are several reasons you may not be fully comfortable with passing your estate directly to your adult children:
- Your adult children have had a problem successfully “launching”. They may still live at home or be financially dependent on you in some way. In these cases, it may feel like bequeathing their inheritance all at once could actually cause more problems.
- Your adult child (or children) has a problem with addiction. Addiction is a heartbreaking disease that can truly weigh on families (and even divide them in some cases). If addiction is causing friction in your current family life, thinking about estate planning may feel daunting.
- They have a partner you don’t trust. Whether your children are married or in a relationship you don’t feel is healthy, this can be a legitimate estate planning fear, causing you to put off the task.
- Your adult children might be successful but financially irresponsible. Even if your children have a career and a drive to grow in work and life, that doesn’t always mean you feel confident in their ability to manage money.
Whatever your reason, know that you aren’t alone. Many parents experience these concerns in navigating this awkward path. Here are a few steps you can take as a concerned parent who is trying to plan ahead.
1. Get Clear On Your Goals
Ultimately, the purpose of making an estate plan is two-fold: to create a legacy that’s uniquely meaningful to you, and using your wealth to support your loved ones and the causes you care about most after you pass away.
If you feel giving wealth to your children would actually prevent them from thriving, you may need to reassess the goals you have for your estate plan. For example, you may choose to have someone else close to you to be your executor, restrict the amount you give to your children, or opt for alternate estate planning options like setting up a scholarship fund at your alma mater, or even donating a large percentage of your estate to charity.
2. Find an Attorney Who Wants What’s Best For Everyone
Creating an estate plan using an online option or DIY tool may work in many situations. That said, if you need something more robust to protect your loved ones (if only from themselves) after you pass away, finding an expert attorney who has your best interests at heart should be strongly considered.
When searching for an estate attorney, consider looking locally online. Finding a professional you can talk with in person can help you prioritize your estate planning goals and build a unique strategy that works for you and your family.
Additionally, friends and family can be solid resources for a recommendation. Referrals are often the best way to find an estate planning specialist. Ask people you know and trust, and who know about your situation.
If you have a financial planner, you can also ask them for a referral. Often, financial and legal professionals connect and work together to help ensure their clients get the best possible experience. Your financial advisor should have one or more recommendations for you, and may even be able to help organize your first meeting.
3. Review Your Options
You have several tools at your disposal to build an estate plan that supports your children in ways you feel are best for them. Here are some to consider:
If your primary concern is that children or other loved ones will take issue with your will, a no-contest clause can ensure if anyone contests your will they will be immediately disinherited.
Pick an Executor
Select an executor of the estate. Having an estate planning attorney, relative, or a close family friend can help you sidestep any contention while your will is being carried out.
Create a Trust
Often, for parents who feel that their children won’t do well receiving a large inheritance all at once, a trust is the best course of action. With a trust, you have several available options:
- Funds can be distributed periodically, depending on a payment schedule you determine.
- You can set up a trust that provides “incentives” for your children to receive payments on schedule. For example, they may need to graduate high school, college, or hit other milestones that you determine to be good indicators they are doing well and will be able to responsibly handle their inheritance.
- If you want to ensure your adult children continue to work, your trust’s payment schedule can match the income they earn throughout adulthood.
- You can have a trustee help you manage a trust after you pass away to distribute payments as they see fit, or to ensure that the payment schedule you previously came up with is enforced.
You can create a living trust where you are able to make adjustments while you’re still alive, with it going into effect once you pass away. Alternatively, you could create a testamentary trust that cements your will into a trust. A living trust may not need to pass through probate, which can help get assets into the hands of your beneficiaries more quickly after you pass.
Set Up a “Spendthrift” Trust
Not sure your beneficiaries will use their assets in a way that enriches their lives? A spendthrift trust ensures your assets are owned by the trust itself, not your beneficiary. You can still pay out benefits to your children over time, but they don’t technically own the assets themselves. This type of trust can also create a reliable income stream for your adult children, as assets in a spendthrift trust are protected against creditors.
It may feel dramatic to disinherit your child, but in some circumstances it may feel necessary to protect them from themselves and ensure your other beneficiaries receive the estate you’ve worked so hard to build. Speaking with an estate planning attorney and your financial advisor can help you determine if this is a necessary step, or if there are other options available that still allow you to care for your children in the way you prefer.
4. Talk to Your Kids Early – And Keep Them Updated
At every stage in your estate plan, it’s critical to involve your children – even if you’re uncertain about giving them full access to your assets as part of their inheritance. Having neutral conversations with professionals, like your estate planning attorney and financial advisor, can help prepare children for exactly what they can expect. Some key points to cover with your children (or other beneficiaries) are:
- How much you plan to leave them
- How those funds will be distributed or divided
- If there are other beneficiaries listed in your will
- How you would like your estate to be distributed and managed
- Who your executor is, and how your children will be contacted to begin proceedings
These conversations may feel uncomfortable, but it can be helpful to get everyone on the same page to ensure they’re not dealing with any financial ambiguity while also shouldering the emotional burden of loss and grief.
Remember: These Steps Apply to All Parents
Estate planning and inheritance can be a challenging path to navigate, and may cause a lot of anxiety for both parents and heirs alike. Anxious adult children, or those who want to do right by their parents, may have a hard time with the responsibility of carrying on a legacy you’d be proud of.
Even if you don’t have a tumultuous relationship with your adult children, these steps can still be wise to implement. To help set children up for success and create good stewards of your estate, working with a professional, having clear conversations, and putting the right legal and financial systems in place to make wealth transfer seamless is helpful for everyone involved.
At Abacus, we regularly partner with estate planning attorneys to serve our clients. We have found that the up-front pain of estate planning can be quickly replaced with a deep sense of relief once some of the unknowns are off your (and your family’s) plate.
If you have questions about finding an estate planning attorney or you’re uncertain about how responsibly your beneficiaries might handle their inheritance, we’re here to help you align your goals with your values and protect your legacy. Reach out and schedule a call today.