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  • Writer's pictureAlan D. Feller, Esq.

You and Your Children

I have five pictures of my daughter on my desk. Two are baby pictures, one photo is from a dance recital when she was a toddler, and the remaining two were taken in school. This morning, I did more than just glance at the older of the two school photos. I studied it. My daughter looked so young, much younger than I expected after a few years of catching glances at that particular photo. She is growing up, but her expectations (at this point) of me is to be a good daddy and not screw up the snack situation. I am told things will change when she becomes a teenager.

Family Estate Planning is usually centered around parents’ expectations for their children. More times than not, Adult children are categorized by their parents as being “good” or “bad.” “Good” children call and visit their parents often. “Bad” children broke off communication or asked for money too many times. Previous generations have treated estate planning as a one-sided exercise, rewarding the “good” child and punishing the “bad.” With the gift of longer life comes the caregiving component which instead of cementing a parent’s role as benefactor often places them in a dependent position. This has bugged me for years. “Good” and “bad” does exist in families and can be spotted very quickly by a professional. But sometimes these definitions do not reflect an objective reality and can backfire when estate planning turns into long term care.

Should adult children have expectations for their parents? I think so. Parents should aim to take care of themselves physically and mentally so as not to burden their families unnecessarily. Parents should make an effort to prepare their advance directives and estate planning documents. Parents should maintain and organize financial records responsibly. Parents should share important and relevant information with their children. Leaving a mess to your children may be your right, but it is a lousy thing to do.

What about a parent’s role as an active grandparent? Do adult children have a right to expect their parents take on an active role as a grandparent and secondary caregiver to their grandchildren? Probably not. However, families with long traditions of babysitting grandparents will not look kindly on the generation of grandparent that breaks with tradition. A “good” child calls and visits. A “good” parent is an active and caring grandparent. These are simplistic renderings, but these definitions impact both ends of the estate planning and long term care spectrum.

Does a parent have any financial obligation to their adult children? No. A parent that has the means and inclination can boost an adult child’s resources, but there should not be an expectation of financial assistance. As with grandparenting, families with a tradition of older generations helping younger generations financially will have to address this issue more carefully.

We know that really “good” and really “bad” exist in families. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, hopefully closer to the “good” side. A key to proper estate and long-term care planning is to recognize each family member’s expectations and understand that these expectations do not live in a vacuum. Rendering judgment is built into the estate and long-term care planning process. Always remember that judgment flows in both directions.

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