A subscriber wrote and asked:
I’m retired and widowed. My two adult sons still depend on me to pay some of their bills—even though one of them has a job. (The other can’t seem to keep steady work.) I’m worried that when I’m gone, they are going to fight over my money, even though I don’t have much. Should I consider a trust?
Sadly, I see this problem more often than I’d like. It’s never pretty, and it rarely ends happily. It typically starts when parents confuse leniency for love.
Children can always sense when a parent is afflicted with “leniency-love confusion.” And they will manipulate the heck out of those that do.
“Johnny, go finish your homework.”
“But I wanna watch TV!”
“Now, Johnny, you know the rules…”
“You don’t LOVE me!”
(Nothing eats at an insecure parent like that statement.)
“Okay, you can watch. But just this once.”
Ugh. This dynamic is bad for kids, it invites trouble for parents, and it’s cringeworthy for onlookers.
I love those rare occasions when a parent quietly flashes “the look.” You know, the stern glare that says, “You just messed with the wrong Marine!”
Instantly, the offending child shrinks and slinks away, knowing he/she is in serious trouble, with a capital “T.”
May I state the obvious? If nothing is done to squelch this kind of behavior early, the manipulative seven-year-old will grow up to be a manipulative 17-year-old…and a manipulative 27-year-old and… The longer you wait, the more complicated the cure becomes—if it can ever be cured.
We often think of parenting as “raising kids.” A better goal is raising responsible adults, who can stand on their own two feet financially (and in other ways).
So, let me say this as clearly as I can:
It’s not healthy for a healthy adult child to be dependent on regular infusions of “rescue cash” from mom or dad.
My greatest concern for my questioner is that this unhealthy pattern is draining her assets at a time in life when she can least afford it. Here’s what I advise:
- Tell your sons that the gravy train just ended. If they can’t manage to pay their own bills, you can’t count on them to take care of you when your money runs out.
- Create a trust in your will. If you don’t have a will, have one drafted by a competent attorney. The will should stipulate that the assets of your estate be placed in trust, to pay an income for life to each of your sons, equally (if that is your wish).
This way, there is nothing to fight over, and they can’t get their inheritance right away and spend it all. (And, yes, they would.)
- Get a professional trustee to carry out the specifications of your estate plans. Your trust document contains your estate plan. Your trustee is the one who must carry it out.
Parents who financially support their able-bodied adult children obviously do that out of love. But I encourage you to start loving them with “tough love.”
It will be best for them…and best for you.
To help you think through such issues in greater detail, I’ve created a thorough checklist of financial questions for people who are 60-something. It’s free if you’d like a copy. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll send it to you right away.
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