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On Legacy Parenting

What Are You Passing On?

By Rick Kahler CFP®

Fiduciary, client-centered financial planning is dynamic, ongoing, and evolving. The collaboration between client and planner is a relationship that often lasts for a client’s’ lifetime.

Sometimes that relationship even extends beyond a client’s lifetime if they have children or leave money to a foundation. It’s not uncommon for clients’ children to become the stewards of their parents’ financial legacy via an inheritance or being appointed the overseers of a trust fund. Nor is it unusual for the children to become clients of the financial planner, either as they create their own financial success or as they inherit from their parents.

Children often form partnerships with a parent’s financial planner as their parents age and they become caretakers of their parents’ financial affairs. It’s very common that at some point, a child will have a durable power of attorney. This responsibility includes not just paying bills, but maintaining the investment portfolio, selling real estate, and making a plethora of other financial decisions that are crucial to the parents’ wellbeing. If children don’t have good money skills or don’t know about the specifics of their parents’ finances, the task can be overwhelming. A planner’s help can be invaluable.

Evolution lack

Sometimes, however, that next generation of relationships doesn’t evolve. I once had a long-time client who developed dementia. My financial planning meetings were now with his children, who had no understanding of the history I had with their father or the investment philosophy of the portfolio. They questioned everything I was doing: the investments, our fees, our philosophy.

Eventually, the children suggested I liquidate the portfolio and loan the money to them to use in their business. Even though they had the legal right to direct me to do that, I resisted.

This created a real emotional conflict of interest. Even though my client had legally passed the decision-making on to the children, what they wanted was not in his best interest. And knowing my client as I did through our long relationship, he would have not agreed in the least to what they requested. I decided I would rather face a judge as a result of acting in the best interest of my client instead of following the requests of the children. Fortunately, they didn’t persist.

Example:

When the client passed away, almost immediately the children called and asked me to liquidate their father’s investments and distribute cash as quickly as possible. Before long, I heard that much of the father’s estate was being squandered. After I had worked closely with this man for so long and helped him build that estate, this saddened me.

Yet this client’s legacy was no longer my concern. When children become stewards of their parents’ legacies, the money belongs to them. They might feel chained by guilt and obligation to carry out a parent’s wishes. They might squander a parent’s legacy on ill-advised pursuits, spending, and investment schemes. Ideally, they will have developed enough financial and emotional intelligence to follow a more balanced middle path.

***

***

To help children find that middle path, perhaps the best legacy parents can leave is their values. This can be done by teaching children about finances, family businesses, and family history, by leaving ethical wills, and above all by example.

Assessment

Those values and the financial legacies to support them start a new cycle. Inheritances are meant to support children’s own dreams and quests for meaning. Unless the funds are left to a trust, the decision-making is literally and figuratively out of the hands of both the parents and their financial planner. The planner, as a torchbearer for clients, has the responsibility to pass that torch to the next generation.

Conclusion

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One Response

  1. When Parents Can’t Say No: Financial Enabling

    “Pleeeeeze?” Your nine-year-old daughter has spent her allowance but is begging you to buy her a toy she “just has to have.”

    “I really will pay you back this time. I promise.” Your 30-something son, despite a history of non-payment that would make a banker flinch, is asking for another loan to get him out of another financial hole.

    If you can’t say no to requests like these, you might be financially enabling your children. It is one of the most common harmful money behaviors I see.

    Most parents want the best for their children. But when does extending a helping hand to a child become emotionally or financially disabling? Sometimes parents’ heartfelt desire to help paves the way to children developing an attitude of entitlement and a disabling financial dependency on others.

    Financial enabling is the inability to know when to say no when people continually ask for money. It harms both the recipient and the giver. Often, enablers can’t say no even when they know they can’t afford to keep giving money. Research suggests that about 60% of parents provide financial support to children who are out of school.

    Why do parents enable? Often out of love and good intentions that are loaded with unconscious baggage. The enabling may be a quest to meet parents’ emotional needs. It is often driven by feelings of guilt and shame. This can come from just about anything, but divorce, hard financial times, and abuse are some of the leading reasons. Other reasons are wanting to save the child from experiencing a financial struggle or a money script that giving money equals love.

    Some signs of parental enabling are:

    Sacrificing or jeopardizing your financial well-being for children.
    Having trouble saying “no” to children’s requests for money.
    Repeatedly being taken advantage of financially by your kids.
    Lending money without a clear agreement for repayment.
    Feeling resentment or anger after giving money.

    It is no wonder that financial enabling usually ends up damaging the relationship, which is usually the opposite of the enabler’s intent. Research finds enabling often leads to depression, a sense of being out of control, and poor physical health for both parties.

    Financial enabling often ends up damaging the enabler’s financial health by eroding net worth, increasing credit card debt, diminishing financial independence, and even bankruptcy.

    Financial enabling also damages the recipients. The parents’ good intentions often backfire and can result in adult children failing to develop their own financial skills and experiencing emotional side effects. In severe cases, when adult children have become dependent on money from parents, they can experience fear and anxiety over being cut off, anger and resentment, and lower levels of motivation and passion to succeed and become financially self-sufficient.

    Not all parental giving is enabling. Some signs of healthy giving are:

    It is clear to both parent and child that money is a one-time gift with no expectation of repayment.
    The gift will not harm the giver’s financial well-being.
    The use of the funds is transparent.
    There is no history of chronic requests for money.
    The money promotes financial health rather than continuing harmful financial behavior.

    If you realize that you are financially enabling your children, what can you do?

    As with other destructive behaviors, sheer willpower probably won’t be enough for change. You may need a trusted guide to help you explore the history behind the behaviors. Engaging the help of a financial therapist, financial life planner, or a psychotherapist with some expertise in money issues is a good place to start.

    Rick Kahler

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