A common goal for most parents and grandparents is family harmony. They hope that the family will stay close and love each other beyond their lifetimes and for generations to come. Unfortunately, these dreams often fail to come true through a combination of their naivety, poor planning and weak communication. The reality is that you don’t need to be from a billion-dollar family for your family to be fighting about financial issues. It happens to families with limited means, to middle-income families and affluent families.
Some of the most common causes of family disharmony start with the aging of a grandparent. As he or she needs care, it is commonly one of the children, and frequently a daughter that provides that care. After an extended period of daily care, it is common for the caregiver to begin resenting the other offspring who have not given up their job or neglected their own family to care for mom. This becomes the beginning of the end of the family harmony that may never repair itself. If you can qualify for and afford the coverage, adequate long-term care insurance will allow the family can hire professional care, and allow the offspring to maintain some normalcy to their day to day life. Another alternative may be to provide compensation for the caregiver offspring through mom’s will or outright cash compensation at the time of providing the care.
Another cause of family disharmony comes from family businesses. It is not common to have all of your children working in the family business. Some have gone on to unrelated careers and may have even relocated to other parts of the country to pursue their dreams. In these cases, it makes sense to somehow equalize your estate to recognize that family is one thing and the business is quite another. It may not be fair to have your son in California inherit half of a business that your daughter will run in Massachusetts after your passing.
A poor will or trust can also cause heartache after your demise. This can happen from unclear instructions regarding personal property, where one heir goes and cherry picks what they want before the others even get a chance to see what mom or dad still had. It can also happen by allowing children to get too much before they are mature enough to handle the newfound wealth.
If family harmony is your goal, don’t think that your wonderful parenting skills alone will do the trick. Communicating your intentions and objectives during your lifetime and clearly through your wills and trusts are mandatory. If you want your son who works in the Peace Corps to get favorable treatment in the settlement of your assets because you feel that your daughter doesn’t need it, let them know. And remember, things change. Health, wealth and your children’s needs and family harmony may be different in 20 years than they are today. Plan accordingly, communicate well and allow your words to live forever.
John P. Napolitano CFP®, CPA, PFS, MST is Founder and Chairman of Napier Financial in Braintree, MA. Visit napierfinancial.com for more information. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Legal counsel should be consulted for specific advice or recommendations about any individual’s personal legal circumstances. Investment and financial planning advice offered through US Financial Advisors and Great Valley Advisor Group, Registered Investment Advisors.