Lately, clients have been asking if we wouldn’t mind having a conversation with their kids about planning for future wealth transfer, as well as helping their children learn how to save and become financially independent. The decision as to whether to talk to your children and when is very personal, so there is no right answer. Every family has their differences, and views on money can be disparate, but having a conversation in advance can prevent future mistakes and confusion within the family. If you have open communication lines with your kids and don’t mind them knowing about the assets you have, bringing up this topic sooner rather than later can be advantageous.
First, decide how much information you want to reveal and what you would like to accomplish or instill in your children. Sometimes it may make sense to involve your financial advisor or estate attorney, who can be a sounding board and an intermediary when explaining types of accounts, estate documents, and other investment questions that may arise. Having a discussion about current beneficiaries, where accounts are located, and the purpose for each type of account is important. For example, if a child inherits an IRA or 401K account, there can be huge tax consequences if the child takes out all the funds at once.
If there are several children and grandchildren involved, usually most parents try to be fair. If you pass away and leave more money to one child than the other, since you helped one more while you were alive, communicating this decision in advance may prevent conflict. Also, discussing which assets would be best given to whom may make splitting assets smoother in the future. It may be more efficient in some cases to leave a house to a child that lives in the same location versus to a child who lives in another country. There may be certain tax advantages to leaving an IRA to one child versus another. If one child is struggling and paying for grandkids’ college and also thinking about buying a house, and you really want to pay for this, leaving only IRA assets to that child would cause them to have to take out funds and pay taxes prematurely, in comparison to another child that may be more financially stable and does not need the cash now.
If you are passing on generations of wealth from a family business, you may want to discuss how the money was made and explain the family legacy. If the family business is still active, communicating with your children about how you expect the business to continue may be important. One of our clients had a great idea. He wrote a book about his life for his grandkids and future generations. He added various pictures and life stories such as his first car and first girlfriend, and how he started in his profession.
If you are involved in charitable causes, this may be an opportune time to explain the importance of having philanthropy continue into the next generation. If you have a very strong inclination to give back to a specific cause because of a past experience, when your kids understand that decision they may be more inclined to remain involved in that cause once you are gone. One way of doing this could be to set up a charitable fund and have your kids as beneficiaries, but to discuss the purpose of the funds in advance.
If you are dealing with a child with special needs, it is important to have a conversation with other siblings or family members regarding your wishes when you are gone. If the plan was to have another sibling take care of the child with special needs, communicating and planning for this in advance can prevent future surprises. Assuming that a sibling wants to take responsibility as trustee or guardian for another sibling may end up in disaster. If you set up a trust with a sibling as trustee and they resign, you may end up with a corporate trustee making the decisions.
Continuing the Plan
Since your financial plan was put in place to make sure you are secure throughout your lifetime, if significant assets are projected to be left behind, continuity with your financial plan may be another topic for discussion. If your kids are all well off, planning for grandkids and future generations may now be your goal. Having a discussion with your advisor along with the family will help you make better decisions about how to plan for the future. Keep in mind that this should be revisited when there are changes in the tax laws or if there are changes in the family such as a marriage, divorce or new grandchild.
Feel free to reach out to Roxanne Alexander if you have any questions by email: RAlexander@Evensky.com or phone: 305.448.8882 extension #236.