Children May Inherit Your Money, but What About Your Values?

If you have children, you’ve probably thought about what you will pass down to them in your will. If you don’t have a will, now is a great time to start, especially because none of us knows when it will become necessary. And if you haven’t done much thinking about what you should leave to each of your children or any other heirs to your assets, realize that those assets need not be restricted to money and material possessions.

More and more these days, California residents are thinking about not just the property they want to leave behind, but their principles. The amount of money that people left to charities in their wills nationwide rose 19 percent over the past year. These bequests are just one way that people can pass along their values and let the world know what was important to them while they were living. But you can also make your values clear in your children’s inheritance.

We’ve all heard stories of families who get into fights over a recently departed loved one’s will. Siblings who argue over who was given more money or a favorite heirloom often get angry at their parents’ estate planning decisions after it’s too late to change them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; children who try to manipulate an aging parent in order to get more money out of the estate usually aren’t deserving of it. But that doesn’t mean that you should keep your family entirely in the dark about your estate plans.

Some people may decide to leave more assets to one child than another, rather than dividing the estate equally. This could be because one sibling is considerably wealthier or is at an unavoidable economic disadvantage. In other cases, parents may put their money in a trust, which allows for more specifications and can prevent children from spending their inheritance in a way that’s inconsistent with the parent’s values.

If you do have specific plans for your estate that will affect your children differently, it’s a good idea to talk to them about your choices before they’re put into action. That way you can avoid a lot of resentment, unanswered questions and fighting amongst your children, who may not understand their inheritance without a heartfelt explanation.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “‘Spiritual’ estate planning ensures values are passed with money,” Donna Gehrke-White, Nov. 23, 2012