By: Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho
Do you have one child you can always rely upon and the rest never follow through? Do you have one child who needs more financial and emotional help that you end up providing, perhaps not telling your other children?
Families and the relationships among family members are complex. This week I talked with a mother, Sally, who has three sons. One son, George, lives out of town, has millions of dollars and calls Mom once each month. Another son, Sam, lives in town, receives Social Security disability benefits and is always short of money. He sees his mother once a month when she takes him out to Sunday Brunch. Mom provides $600 in cash to Sam each month out of her $1700 social security check and does not want her other kids to know. Frank, the youngest son, has worked as a mechanic for 20 years and stops by weekly to visit and mow his mother’s lawn.
Sally wants to set up her estate plan and is undecided about what to do. She has a house and $500,000 in investments. George does not need the money. Frank is the most attentive, and Sam needs the money the most as he will have no retirement benefits. She loves all of her sons, and does not regard any one of them as a “black sheep”. She initially decided to give it all to Sam in a trust to provide a financial safety net for him for life. Sally did not feel quite right about this, as she thought her other two sons would be insulted.
An inheritance is perceived as a “scorecard” of love and appreciation. Sally wanted to be certain that her wishes would be “right” for her family. She felt she had two choices: 1) Divide everything equally among her sons; or 2) Make the division unequal, and explain why in writing. She finally elected to make an equal distribution among her sons.
Each family is unique. There is no universal answer. Just remember the perception of the “scorecard” that reflects your appreciation of individuals after you die will leave a lasting statement of how you valued each of them being a part of your life.