Why you should let children know about their inheritance

There is nothing to be gained in misleading your children about inheritance plans, say lawyers and financial planners.

  • By Glenn Ruffenach,
  • The Wall Street Journal
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Q: I have never been comfortable talking about money with my adult children, but my wife and I are making some changes to our estate plan. Our question: Should we talk with our children about their inheritance? Have you tackled this issue?

A: You certainly can make an argument for not having this conversation. Some parents, for instance, worry that if their children learn what they’re going to inherit too early, they could get lazy or, perhaps worse, complain about how assets are being carved up.

That said, lawyers and financial planners have told us that discussing your estate plan with your children can yield one big benefit: the chance to gauge their reactions. Even if you don’t change your plans based on their concerns, your children should have a chance to work through their issues while you’re alive, meaning there’s less chance of quarreling once you’re gone.

To be more specific: First, tell each child separately that you’re trying to decide what to do and that you want to find out what he or she expects or wants. Once you have that information, you can figure out where the potential conflicts, if any, are. (Did you help pay for one, and only one, child’s graduate degree? And are his or her siblings keeping score?).

A discussion that turns up differing expectations could give you the chance to go back to the drawing board now, rather than having your children fight over your plans in the future.

However uncomfortable the thought of discussing such topics makes you, don’t mislead your children. As one financial planner cautioned us, even adult children who inherit more than they expected sometimes get angry.

They may remember times when they really could have used a helping hand from their parents, and now they know their parents had the ability to help them and chose not to. It’s even worse when parents assure children that they will be “taken care of” and then bequeath much less than their children anticipated.

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