Giving your children an inheritance can be one of the most generous, most loving things a parent can do... Unfortunately, under certain circumstances it can also be the most dangerous. A recent article in the New York Times addresses a question asked by many parents in estate planning offices all over the country: How to give an inheritance to a problem child who might squander or abuse it?
It is not unusual for estate planners to hear concerns from parents or families about one child or sibling who is not quite as mature, not quite as responsible as the others. In some cases the concern is not with a child or sibling, but with an untrustworthy spouse of a child or sibling. In both cases the estate planning challenge is the same—how to provide for the one you love without feeding any dangerous habits or predatory relationships.
There are actually a great number of ways parents can use estate planning to either protect or motivate an irresponsible child. The one your family chooses will depend on your unique circumstances. The article mentions a few of these strategies, including:
Eliminate temptation by restricting access to large sums of money. “Money does not cause problems, but it can sure accelerate them. The simplest strategy is to choke off that fuel.” Parents can do this through annuities, through specific instructions in trusts, or through a trusted and like-minded trustee. What is not recommended is putting another sibling in charge of the estate and asking that sibling to “parent” the less responsible one. This is a recipe for disaster.
Use your estate plan to give your child incentives to improve. “Incentive trusts can set hurdles for children to receive money or make payments only for set reasons. Pretty much anything can be a trigger, from being admitted to a certain college or matching money children earn on their own to being clean from drugs for a certain number of years.” Your estate planner can tell you how to best set this up.
Keep something in reserve for future years and generations. If your goal is to encourage children and grandchildren to lead productive lives and contribute to future generations then your estate planner can help you design a plan that will last for decades or generations. Recent tax developments have made this an especially good time to create a lasting legacy. “People with substantial wealth may want to take advantage of the $5 million exemption from taxes and 35 percent tax rate over that amount.”