Inheritance as a Source of Family Conflict   no comments

Posted at 9:05 pm in Resources For Seniors

An inheritance is a gift of love, not an entitlement. For some, leaving an inheritance is passing on what one no longer needs to one’s children after one’s death. For others, the inheritance is the product of years of hard work, saving and sacrifice to create an opportunity for one’s children and grandchildren to have an opportunity to have a better life. Yet others view leaving an inheritance as a token of a appreciation for the love, caring and happiness received, particularly in one’s older years and in times of need.

If your goal is to protect a child’s inheritance, whether a minor or a dependent adult, you need to consider the maturity and integrity of those who inherit your property and those in whose trust you wish to place the safe-keeping and management of such property. An experienced estate planning elder law attorney may be able to provide you with helpful guidance with asset protection and effective inheritance planning.  To go to our Wills & Estate Planning page, click here: Wills & Estate Planning

The elderly often base their estate planning decisions, particularly who will inherit their property, on their relationship with their spouse and children. Other factors, such as fairness, need, dependability, and loyalty, may also play a role. Your relationship with these individuals may determine your ability to accurately assess their suitability to inherit or to protect another’s inheritance. While relationship tension is a great cause of stress to most people, elderly parents are especially hurt when they are disrespected, neglected or ignored.

Money issues are the leading cause of relationship problems and often tear families apart. It’s bad enough when a life partner abuses his or her own money, but a potential inheritance is someone else’s money. There can never be an acceptable reason to manipulate, deceive, coerce, steal or in any way jeopardize anyone’s financial security or peace of mind, or sacrifice family relationships, especially one’s parent or spouse.

Misplaced beliefs and expectations create tension, distrust and estrangement. Children, who mistakenly believe an “inheritance” is an entitlement, have a mindset influenced by unwarranted expectations, a vision of what they will do with the money when they get it, and a determination to protect “their inheritance” from being spent before they get it. Siblings who thought they were close often are shocked by how greed can lead to deception, betrayal, theft, and estrangement.

Parents who use the promise of an inheritance to manipulate their children to do their bidding create resentment and stress. The boomerang effect is that later the children may use the promise of their care services as leverage to secure an advance on their inheritance or to gain control over the frail elderly parent’s finances. The fall-out often is financial disaster and estranged relationships.

Understanding that money is a source of power, and corruption, and instilling good values in one’s children at an early age is important. Sadly, your own financial security and personal safety may depend on it. Money is a source of power, – the power to have better choices, the power to influence, the power to control, and the power to acquire and enjoy things one always thought was out of reach. And money can provide a much needed safety net. What you hope to be able to leave for your children as an inheritance out of love and caring may create a temptation that leads to abusive, even criminal behavior.

An inheritance is a windfall of free money or property, a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire the fruits of someone else’s labors, for nothing. No wonder money can bring out the worst in people and destroy relationships. Misunderstanding over rights and obligations regarding inheritances and hurtful accusations regarding the motives of relatives often is the cause of avoidable family fighting and ill-feeling.

Who has the right to inherit? The answer depends on the context of the question. The correct emphasis is on the word “who,” not on “right.” If the decedent made a valid Will, the Will determines who will inherit the probate assets. The beneficiaries of non-probate assets are those who listed on accounts or life insurance policies or deeds to real estate either as co-owners or as beneficiaries. If there is no valid Will, the laws of intestacy, also known as intestate succession, provide the order of priority of those entitled to inherit.

An inheritance is NOT an entitlement. The owner of the property has the “right to choose” who will inherit. A recipient is never “entitled” to inherit. One has no legal obligation to leave anything to anyone. And no-one has an absolute “right” to an inheritance. If you are not chosen to inherit, you are out of luck. (* An exception is a spouse’s right to elective share.) The recipient of the inheritance gets the “benefit,” thus is known as the “beneficiary.”

When does the law decide who inherits? The laws of intestate succession apply only if one does not make a choice as to who shall inherit. Then, the law provides a prioritized list of who shall inherit. If there is no eligible beneficiary or the inheritance is not claimed, the property will escheat to the State.

Vulnerability to Abuse. Parents, particularly those who are elderly or disabled, who suffer from cognitive impairment, are not always aware of, or refuse to acknowledge, their condition and vulnerability to abuse. Children and other family members, who have lost their moral compass, employ a variety of deceptive acts to take an advance on their perceived inheritance.

Greed and temptation to secure an inheritance can blind one to the consequences of one’s bad behavior. Beware of sheep in wolves’ clothing! These people are not concerned that their conduct undermines their parent’s financial security and trust, or their siblings’ right to receive the inheritance intended by their parents.

Values. Children who respect their parents and value the concept of “family” make a real effort to maintain their relationships with their parents and siblings. Although this can be difficult at times, their belief in family and being there for each other in times of need is a core value that keeps families together.

Relationships are rooted in love, empathy, kindness and altruism. This bond builds resilience and creates a feeling of security and sense of well-being.  When one feels connected, there exists a feeling of warmth and caring.  When one is detached, one is more likely to dehumanize others and not care,

“Awareness” is particularly important for effective inheritance planning, – for those who give and for those who want to receive. If you make an effort to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you will see and understand things you didn’t notice before. You may also stop yourself from doing something you may regret later.

Although people want to be “right,” what they want more is to be understood. They don’t always know that. The way to help people recognize that is what is most important is give them that feeling, by showing respect, empathy and a little kindness. To be understood, one has to be heard, one’s feelings need to be validated, even if not agreed with, and transparency is essential. A smart approach to estate planning takes these issues into consideration.

The focus of understanding should be on what the parents want. After all, it is their money, their property. Don’t they have the right to decide who should get it? Understanding how parents feel when they are neglected and disrespected is important, because it leads them to reconsider their options, including punishment. They don’t want to resort to punishment and thinking about doing so causes stress. They want to do what is right, but feel that “doing right” is a two-way street. The children are so busy with their lives they don’t have time to think. The elderly often have plenty of time on their hands. When something bothers them, they cannot stop thinking about it.

Children who view and inheritance as their “right” can barely wait for that moment. They do not want their parents to squander “their inheritance” on such things as paying for care services or home improvement, or long term care, and their “input” on such matters is biased by their self-interest. They tend to be unhelpful, obstructionist even, in matters concerning their parents’ care and quality of life.

Inheritance issues often come up at time when one is under great stress. Emotions are raw. Judgments tend to be clouded. This is a time to take a step back, and get some professional guidance.
How you manage relationships with your family may determine whether you will inherit or be disinherited. It all starts with how you feel about yourself and your family. If you care about your family, especially your parents, that caring mindset will help you understand what’s going on and possibly play a constructive role. You can be a leader and help prevent family fighting, you can sit on the sidelines, or you can be the match in the powder keg.

It’s not about being right. It’s about doing the right thing. No-one likes to be taken for granted or disrespected. An important aspect of being a mature adult is how you behave in adverse situations, how you manage your emotions and treat others. The other person may well have done or said something wrong, but how you respond is a choice you make. What you say and how you say it matters.

Written by RobG on December 24th, 2017

Parent Abuse & Sacrifices Parents Make for their Children   no comments

Posted at 12:57 pm in Articles,Resources For Seniors

By Rob Goldman, J.D. and Amy Ding, M.D.

Many parents frequently make sacrifices for their children. The focus of this article is not
the typical sacrifices parents make for their children but rather on the situations where adult
children look to their parents, in particular older parents, for financial assistance or try to
dump their emotional baggage on their parents.

Do parents have an obligation to provide financial and emotional support to their adult
children who are experiencing tough times? The short answer is that they do not. Parents
who have raised their children have performed their duty and it is up to the children to take
responsibility for their own lives and the choices and mistakes they make. Of course, there
could be a compelling situation which, based on the specific facts and circumstances, the
answer may be different.

Many parents have a natural feeling of responsibility to help their children in times of need,
and tend to feel guilty if they do not. Decisions to help, or not to help, should not be based
primarily on emotion or pressure.

Your first obligation as a parent, as a person, is to take care of yourself. If you are
financially and/or mentally unable to take care of yourself, you are not in a position to take
care of others. Under no circumstances should you jeopardize your financial security for
anyone else, or your spouse or significant other.

Financial abuse of parents, especially elderly parents, is an increasing problem. Elderly
parents are particularly vulnerable because of the confidential relationship they have with
their children, their “blood.” Parents sometimes will not believe that their children would
take advantage of them. Many of the elderly suffer from some form of dementia and are easily manipulated and deceived. Other parents feel trapped because they are dependent on an adult child and are afraid that standing up to them or denying them will result in physical or mental abuse,loss of needed care services, loss of a place to live, or that they will be completely on their own and isolated from their family and grand-children.

Some seniors have lost their spouse who used to take care of all the family finances and
feel lost. Many a time, an adult child will step in and provide caring, diligent assistance.
Unfortunately, there are many instances where a family member sees this as an
opportunity to enrich himself or herself at the expense of the parent and to deprive siblings
from sharing in any inheritance. Yes, this happens, more frequently than one would think!
If you see red flags, don’t ignore them. Do something right away. Seek professional help
to review your situation and figure out how best to resolve the problem.

The first step to determine whether you are able to help an adult child, assuming you really
do want to help, by performing your own due diligence. Can you really afford to take on
the responsibility of helping your child or anyone else? Review the financial resources you
have now, the resources you will need in the future, factors that may increase and
decrease those resources, whether you rely on others to make ends meet, your health and
how your health needs and the related expenses that will impact your resources. Consider
your own home, work, mental health, physical health, relationship and other needs and stresses.

Second, verify that the child really does need the assistance requested, – that it is a
necessity not just an item on their wish-list. Make sure you get straight answers and the
substantiation you request. Do not allow yourself to be pressured. It is not your problem. –
You are being asked to lend or give your money. You are the boss of yourself!

Third, consider the emotional impact of becoming involved. Stress is arguably the greatest
cause of physical and mental health problems, including heart, digestive, nervous system,
thyroid function, sleep cycles, cancer, poor nutrition, emotional behavior, poor decision making, relationship tension, and so forth. If by taking on the responsibility of helping your adult children, you are going to take on their emotional and financial baggage, create stress in your life and in your relationship with your spouse or significant other, you have to ask yourself whether that makes sense, whether that is the right thing to do by you and by your life partner.

If you really are not in a position to help, do right by yourself and admit that you cannot
help, no matter how much you would like to, and learn how to say “No.” You have no legal
or moral or parental duty to help your child to your own detriment. If you are unable to help,
you are unable to help and that is that.

There is no reason to feel guilt. You can feel sad, you can feel empathetic, you can feel
concerned for your child, but you should not feel guilt. If you allow yourself to feel guilt you
are misleading yourself and doing yourself an injustice. You raised your child and did you
duty as best you could under the circumstances. Even if you feel you could and should
have done better, the past is the past. Yes, that could be a reason for helping when
otherwise you might not, but the first threshold test is whether you are able to help. If
you are not able to help, you have to accept the reality and move on.

If you are unable or unwilling to help, make a firm commitment to stick to your decision no
matter how strongly your children pluck at your heartstrings. Anticipate their
disappointment or anger, and consider a diplomatic way to say “NO.” Explain that you wish
you could help, but after reviewing your personal situation, you cannot. You do not need
to prove to your children that you are unable to help and make it clear this is not a topic for
debate or discussion. Just say, “I’m really sorry, but no, I cannot help you.”

If your child decides to reduce contact with you or ignore you because you did not do what
they asked, sad that you may feel, the decision is their choice, and it tells you how little
concern they have for your needs, your security and your feelings. Let that be a wake-up
call, not a reason to feel guilty. Recognize that such children will not be there for you when
you need them. More likely than not, they will appear primarily to see what’s in it for them.
You should update your estate planning to protect your interests.

Written by RobG on December 13th, 2016

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