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Equal Inheritances Not Always Fair

In estate planning, “equal” isn’t necessarily the same as “fair”. I rarely see an estate plan that does not treat children equally. When I do see inequality, it’s usually because a parent is estranged from one child and leaves him or her nothing.

Dividing an estate into equal shares for each child might seem to be the obvious way to treat children fairly. However, that usually only works if you’ve treated them equally during your lifetime. If you have given more to one child during life, it’s usually smart to level the playing field at death.

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What’s the Backup Plan if You Don’t Die Broke?

In a recent column I reported on a survey done by the financial services company HBSC that found only 59% of US parents intend to leave their children an inheritance, the lowest of the 15 nations in the survey. The fact the US is last came as no surprise to me. What did surprise me was that 59% seemed high.

My average client is someone who has saved over one million dollars. I am guessing that less than 2% of them have any intention or goal of constraining their current lifestyle in order to maximize their kids’ inheritance. Consuming their last penny of savings about the time they take that last breath is their spending plan of choice. There is even a name for these folks: “Die Brokers.”

If they did a good job of planning for retirement, however, most Die Brokers will leave something behind.

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Inheritance Questions Parents Are Afraid to Answer

Last week’s column explored three fears that stop adult children from talking with parents about their estate plans, even though such conversations could greatly benefit both generations. These are: “It’s none of my business,” “I don’t want them to think I am greedy,” and, “It will ruin our relationship.”

Children aren’t alone in their fear of approaching this topic. Most parents are just as reluctant—and for the same basic reasons. In my experience, parents’ biggest reasons for not talking with kids about legacy intentions are: “It’s none of their business,” “If I share financial information, they will take advantage of me,” and “Talking about money will hurt our relationship.”

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Inheritance Questions Kids Are Afraid to Ask

Talking about money is taboo in the US. If you don’t believe me, next time you’re at a social gathering ask every you’re introduced to these two questions: “What was your taxable income last year?” and “What is your net worth?” It’s not a recommended way to make new friends.

The taboo on money conversations can cause real difficulties when it extends to families. My experience as a financial planner suggests most families in the US have a “no-talk” rule around money. While a lot of family members know each other’s earnings, fewer know family members’ net worth. Even fewer have asked about their parents’ estate planning.

Many don’t intend to ever ask.

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Inheritance No Retirement Plan

Stroll through a retirement camping resort or pass an RV on the highway, and you might see this bumper sticker: “We’re spending our children’s inheritance.”

Apparently, this isn’t a joke. A December 13, 2013, article in CNN Money reported on a recent survey by the British-based international financial services company HSBC which asked more than 16,000 people in 15 countries about their estate plans. The US ranks last in the percentage of retired parents (56%) who intend to leave money to their kids. This is significantly below the 15-country average of 69% and far below the leading percentage of 86% in India.

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