A serious illness, family crisis or death in the family can bring out the best behavior among relatives -- or the worst. According to the 2014 Intra-Family Generational Finance Study by Fidelity Investments, 64 percent of parents older than 55 who have at least $100,000 in investable assets and their adult children over 30 aren’t on the same page about when the right time is to have conversations about estate planning. Even among those families that do talk about these topics, few get into the level of detail that’s recommended. The study found that 31 percent of parents say they haven’t talked in detail about estate planning; an additional 10 percent haven’t discussed the subject with their offspring at all.
One reason that estate planning is so complicated and emotionally fraught is that adult offspring often confuse love and money. “What many parents don’t understand is that their children do not see an inheritance as dollars, they see it as ‘love units,’ “ says Ken Moraif, a certified financial planner or at Money Matters, a wealth management and investment firm in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Problems can arise when parents decide to leave a bigger inheritance to one child because, for example, that child isn’t doing as well financially as another. “The child that received the smaller inheritance interprets that as ‘Mom and Dad loved my sibling more than me,’ “ says Moraif. “This creates resentment and ill will that the parents had no intention of creating.” He says parents should individually explain a disproportionate inheritance to each adult child and allow them to vent their frustrations, so that they don’t feel punished for their success or less loved.
Hurt feelings and misunderstandings aren’t the only inheritance troubles that can plague families. Consider the following real-world stories of times when estate plans (or lack thereof) went awry.
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