The Civil War
The American Civil War was the bloodiest conflict in our history. Over 600,000 young men made the ultimate sacrifice, and thousands more were maimed for the rest of their lives. It was a gruesome, ugly picture of what happens when our American family can no longer get along. I hope we never see such a thing again.
There is another civil war that I have personally observed. It begins at the death of the parents in a family, and many times separates and maims siblings for the rest of their lives. It's an ugly legacy to leave behind, and almost always could have been completely prevented.
By taking care to adress financial issues beforehand. I know of folks who have spent years in probate, dealing with courts and attorneys, and it could all have been prevented so easily if only a detailed and well-thought out Will had been prepared.
Most families don't want to leave behind a legacy of hatred and strife amongst their children, but it's a rare family that can escape turmoil when the Patriarchs of the family leave this part of their financial plan undone.
Communication is the Key!
It's important that children and parents talk to each other about these issues. Mom and Dad need to be reassured that you aren't trying to take over their finances, but that you want to be able to provide assistance where you can.
One of the biggest things is to have a very detailed Will prepared, and/or a Trust. These documents needs to be specific. A statement in the Will such as "entire estate to be split equally amongst the children" is a recipe for disaster. Inevitably one child will feel that something he or she wants is going to another sibling, and hard feelings may result. Another area to look at is how shared assets are titled. For example, anything held as Joint Tenacy will pass immediately to the survivor and bypass probate. No matter the size of the estate, a proper estate plan is essential, and the heirs need to know the whereabouts of all relevant documents.
Protection from Con Artists
The elderly are targets for con artists. Some of the bottom feeders of our society have decided to prey on the kind hearts of these sweet people. Here's where good communication between parents and children is essential. One child asked his Dad to always call him before he wrote any check over a certain amount. Another child may take over the family finances altogether, using a Power-of-Attorney.
Help with Finding Help
Many times the parents may need financial help of some kind, such as advice on health insurance, low-income subsidies, or other topics, but they don't know where to go. Children, using the internet and other technology, can help point their parents to these resources.
Have you talked to your parents about their death? This is a tough thing for kids to do, and it's a wise parent who takes the lead on this. Do they have funeral wishes? Where will they be buried? Any special wishes on the service, etc? How will all this be paid for? These are all questions that need to be discussed.
A Will (at least in the absence of a Trust) is absolutely essential. Also important is a Living Will, which will specify how you want your medical care to be delivered. For example, suppose your Mom or Dad was on life support, with no possibility of recovery. What do you do? Should you withdraw medical care and let them die? No child wants to make that kind of decision, and a Living Will expresses the desires of the patient. Finally, a Do Not Rescuscitate order may be desirable to have in place, when a person has a terminal illness. Once again, these kind of documents will bring peace into the child's mind, and erase the torment they may face over their decisions for the rest of their lives.
A Positive Legacy
These kinds of conversations, and actions on the part of both parents and children are sometimes hard, yet highly worthwhile. By using a little forethought and careful planning, along with good communication, parents can insure peace and harmony amongst the heirs. Let's leave them absolutely nothing to fight about, and be reassured that our positive legacy will survive intact.
Until next time,
Have you considered your finances in light of the above. We'd love to be a part of the conversation. Give us a shout and let's make sure your legacy is what you want it to be.