Inheritances: Trying To Right Wrongs After Death Is Not The Best Tactic

&l;p&g;&l;img class=&q;dam-image shutterstock size-large wp-image-1061588717&q; src=&q;×0.jpg?fit=scale&q; data-height=&q;640&q; data-width=&q;960&q;&g; Your legacy is much more than just your inheritance. Shutterstock

Family relations are always tricky and as we try to think about our legacy, many of us are unsure about the best way to leave our mark. Or the best way to make amends. Trying to right, after your death, whatever wrongs there were while you were alive is fruitless. You&s;ll never know how it turns out and my guess is there will always be some resentment. Furthermore, the only chance you have of teaching your children to act responsibly is to do what you can while you&s;re alive. If one attempt doesn&s;t work, you can try a second time. And keep trying after that. After death you only have that one shot. How much of a gambler are you? Think you&s;ll win that lottery? Not likely.

A reader wrote to me asking for advice about leaving money to his two children. His daughter, married with two kids of her own, had never proven to be the most responsible with her finances. In fact, she and her husband got caught up in the housing bubble, walked away from their home, and ultimately had to declare bankruptcy. If that had been her only example, he could easily have dismissed it since so many others were caught in the same loop. Unfortunately, he said, there were several times she made decisions that were, in his mind and at the very least, not well thought out. His son, in contrast, had always done a good job with his finances and was steadily employed. He did point out that his son was a single man with fewer responsibilities than his daughter but his son also never had demonstrated any behavior that he thought was financially questionable.

The reader&a;rsquo;s dilemma was that the portion he was planning to leave his daughter he felt would be flittered away before his body was cold. To address his concern, he thought he&a;rsquo;d divide the inheritance in a way that would protect his grandchildren: his daughter&a;rsquo;s half of his assets would not go to her but would be split with a trust in each of her children&a;rsquo;s names. Protecting the grandchildren that way is certainly a noble goal and might just work.

On the other hand, to me that&a;rsquo;s evading the real issue: his daughter&a;rsquo;s financial irresponsibility.

So without knowing the dynamics of his family or yours, for that matter, it does seem to me that a conversation is in order. Or rather, multiple conversations are in order. You&s;re starting a dialog that may last some 20-30 years, assuming you&a;rsquo;re 50+ and that your life expectancy is in the normal range.

The other thing that jumps out at me about this letter is how he described his son: &q;not married and handles money fine.&q; Now? Always? Tomorrow? What about if he has a family? What about if he and his partner run into financial difficulties and have to declare bankruptcy? He would probably answer that given his son&a;rsquo;s track record that&a;rsquo;s not likely. But stuff happens.

What it comes down to for me is that inheritance is not just about money, is it? What do you want for your daughter? How can you best achieve that? What can you do now to help her achieve her goals? Does she even have goals?

Is leaving a legacy important to you? We all want to be remembered and feel we have contributed something to the world. For some, of course, this can be a driving force leading to great accomplishment and extraordinary contributions to humankind. What kind of legacy do you want to leave? Certainly it can be financial. But it can also be so much more. Through your will you can leave money or property and presumably that will make a difference to them. But if your legacy is not just about material things you may want to do more. Your son will be teaching his daughter how to fish and as he explains the feel of pulling up on the rod, he&a;rsquo;ll flash back to the time you taught him that same technique. The family heirloom given to your son may have special significance that carries on a family tradition. The values that you have transferred to your children and grandchildren may be even more important to your legacy than the material gifts you give.


We provide our legacy by being with our loves ones and through our relationships. Hopefully you have relayed your values along with those material things you provide.

Lots of questions, lots of unknowns, not just on my part, but probably on yours too. As I said, I think inheritances and legacies require having conversations. My heirs and I talk a lot. Often, and we try to be honest. We all want to remain close. We all acknowledge that we love each other. So we just keep talking.&a;nbsp;And that reassures my wife and me that we&a;rsquo;re doing what we can while we&a;rsquo;re alive to take care of our children and grandchildren once we&a;rsquo;re gone.


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