Adult children fighting over their parent’s money: this is one of the saddest, yet common, things I witness in my work as a daily money manager. In some cases, one or more of the children have a sense of entitlement, not understanding that their parents’ money is not theirs. In other cases, some of the children feel less loved by their parents. In yet others, one child may be helping the parents manage their finances and bill paying, and the others believe the sibling is mismanaging the money or even exploiting their parents.
Some of these cases end up in court. Court is public. It is both emotionally upsetting and financially draining for all parties involved. The parents usually spend thousands of dollars paying professionals to represent their interests and to handle their money, draining the funds they may need later for their care and housing.
How can you prevent your kids from fighting over your money as you age? Here are my thoughts:
Teach your children to be financially independent.
Although this may be very difficult to do, this means you can’t bail them out every time they have a financial crisis. Your kids need to learn to rely on themselves and to solve their own money problems, even if it means they go through some very tough times. It may mean restraining yourself from buying gifts that support a lifestyle your children cannot afford on their own. It may mean saying “no” to requests for “loans” you know will never be paid back. All this contributes to keeping your children from becoming financially dependent on you.
When you give your children gifts, give the same dollar value to every child. They know when one sibling has received more than the others. The amount of the children’s own income does not matter. The size of the gifts do not matter. With one family I met, part of the problem was a $60,000 car the mother bought one child, but not the others. In another family, the issue was $100 birthday gifts given every year to three children, but not the fourth.
Don’t play favorites, and don’t give more to the children you see more frequently or with whom you have a closer relationship. The daughter who was upset about the $100 birthday gifts lives overseas.
If you do give more to one child, explain to the others your rationale. You may think, “It’s my money and I can give however much I want to whomever I want.” This is true. But, when you don’t explain, it hurts the children who do not understand your decisions.
While it may be true one child needs more help than the others, most children don’t think about this rationally. They react emotionally. A daughter, who had more resources than her brother, became extremely upset when she learned her mother had been giving several thousand dollars annually to her brother. The daughter didn’t correlate the discrepancy to the differences in their situations. She took it as, “Mom loves me less.” It helped the daughter once her mother, when confronted, explained she worried the brother could not afford expensive medications he needed for his medical condition.
Choose your agent by power of attorney carefully.
Your agent is the person you appoint in your Power of Attorney (POA) document to manage your financial affairs when you are unable. If you appoint one of your children, be certain this child will not assume your money is his and use it for his own benefit. Be certain you agree with how this child manages her own money. Don’t choose anyone who is deeply in debt. If none of your children qualify, look for a more distant relative or someone outside the family, even if you need to pay them a fee. If you don’t yet have a POA, contact an estate planning attorney to set one up.
Fights over parents’ money can tear families apart. Money can be emotionally charged, bringing out the worst in even the most calm, rational people. I hope with thoughtful handling of your money in relation to your children and careful preparation for your later years, your family will avoid money fights.
This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice. Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.