Making Cents: Equal or Equitable; That is the Question
By: John P. Napolitano, CFP®, CPA, PFS, MST
I’ve heard you say this before, “I want to spend all of my money so that my children inherit nothing”. In reality, this doesn’t happen too often, and you’re still tasked with the tough decision of how to split up your assets upon your passing.
Equal is a common route, but not the only one. The facts and circumstances that come into play when making this decision are the age of your children, their lives’ paths, and their overall health and well-being will help to make the best decision to keep harmony in your family beyond your lifetime.
If your children are young, with their life path the furthest thing from their mind, you’re almost forced to divide assets equally. This is best accomplished using a trust so that a responsible adult or fiduciary can be appointed to oversee the assets for your children. That fiduciary shall control how the funds are invested and make decisions regarding distributions according to the terms of the trust. It’s also common to see these assets pooled together so that all of your desired life expenses of a child are funded until the youngest is ready to support themselves.
An exception to this rule may be a child identified with special needs. These circumstances make the planning a little more complicated. Consider talking to a planning professional about a special needs trust for that child to protect the money.
As you age and your children begin maturing, their lives and paths will unfold in front of your eyes. Beyond the joy of seeing these paths develop is the heartache of day to day living. Some will have stable careers with benefits, and others may not. Some will be successful in business, others will not. Some will have a happy home life, and some will not. Some will be healthy, and some will not.
As their lives unfold, it’s OK to have different thoughts regarding the division of your assets. There’s no law that says equal is the only way. The discussion about how to divide assets between your pre-school teaching son and your high flying CEO daughter can favor those who ‘need’ it the most or whatever other criteria you think matter. In fact, in cases where I’ve witnessed disparities such as these, the already wealthy child often is adamant about leaving more to their lower earning sibling.
Equal or not, one must also consider what is being inherited. Is $1 million cash the same as receiving a house valued at $1 million? Different facts, different answers. Every family will have their own unique answer to this question. These aren’t technical issues, they’re family issues. You can get the technical help you may need from a good financial planner. The technical issues are the valuation of the property, any costs to turn it into cash, income and estate taxes and any other obligations of the property such as deferred maintenance or other issues that should be resolved before the change of ownership.
John P. Napolitano CFP®, CPA is CEO of US Wealth Management in Braintree, MA. Visit JohnPNapolitano on LinkedIn or uswealthnapolitano.com. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. John Napolitano is a registered principal with and securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through US Financial Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. US Financial Advisors and US Wealth Management are separate entities from LPL Financial. He can be reached at 781-849-9200.