As attorneys, we are often faced with the challenges that are presented with the variety of family dynamics that exist in today’s world of Trusts and Estates.
With this in mind, it is always important to have a complete understanding of our client’s true intentions when trying to determine how to distribute their estates without causing family conflict.
There are even times as practitioners we have to have difficult conversations with our clients for them to determine their true intentions as it relates to the distribution of their estate after passing. As a parent or stepparent, it is natural to not want to create conflict with your kids, no matter how old they are. We find in many instances parents leave a child a certain distribution in order to keep peace and avoid family conflict.
While we understand this approach, we often must remind our clients that THEIR estate plan is exactly that. They have worked hard to accumulate their assets, and it is theirs to decide where it goes.
The other side of the coin is our conversations with “the kids.” The story with the kids typically goes something like this:
Mom and Dad have been married for 45 years. Mom passed away a few months ago and now Dad has a new girlfriend. After taking care of Mom for the last few years, Dad has now begun taking more vacations with his new girlfriend, buying nicer cars, and spending more money in general. This is usually the point when we receive a call from his children concerned that Dad is spending their inheritance.
So, I will ask again, is inheritance a right or a privilege? With either one of the above scenarios, whether we are speaking to the parents or the kids, our answer is still the same. Inheritance is a privilege, NOT a right.
While we understand the reason to avoid family conflict at any and all cost, clients need to understand that their estate plan is theirs to do with what they want, not what their kids want. Kids need to understand this as well, with ONE exception.
The exception is the financial exploitation of an elderly individual. There are often times when there is a fine line between financial exploitation and the privilege of receiving an inheritance. While I mention this one exception now, it is an article for another time.
So, I will say it again, inheritance is a privilege, NOT a right.