Have you ever noticed how the older you get the less intelligent those around you seem to be? You look at some of their actions or statements and just shake your head. But when you open your mouth to offer advice what happens? Usually you’re ignored at best, or, at worst, you’re shut down.
There’s actually something to this phenomenon.
As we age, we accumulate valuable lessons. Life experience. Some call it “The School of Hard Knocks” which is more difficult and valuable than anything taught at the university. Looking back, I’d venture to say that the most valuable lessons occurred, at least for me, when I failed.
I tried something and it didn’t work.
At the time, I may have been upset with myself or sometimes I became angry with others, or at the circumstances. Reflecting on those occasions my anger was directed elsewhere, I realize that I was often the true culprit. Despite the blame game, I still picked up golden nuggets that would become useful at some point in the future.
I’m sure this resonates with you too, doesn’t it?
My children are now at the ages where they’re invincible. My three daughters are 25, 23 and 19. The oldest is out of college having earned her master’s degree and is in the workforce. The middle is in the physical therapy doctorate program at the University of Florida while the youngest is a college sophomore.
They know it all.
Except they don’t.
They haven’t been through some of the trials and tribulations that my wife and I have experienced. We hope that they avoid some of our most challenging obstacles. The problem is, when we shield our children from those same challenges, we deny them the very life lessons, the wisdom earned, that enabled our success.
How does one therefore share one’s wisdom in such a manner that our loved ones will openly listen, yet not try to overly manage their lives? The most effective strategy I’ve come up with is to share my life experiences as they happen. Including the failures. Patti and I have shared our ups and downs around the dinner table since the kids were young.
We were careful not to share stories or events that weren’t age appropriate. I believe over the years, our open communication helped. I’ve noticed how our daughters, when describing their current challenges to us, often analogize those same dinner time conversations to their situations.
But what to do when they leave the nest? Does this end our opportunity to share wisdom?
It certainly gets more difficult. Yet, have you noticed that as your loved ones age, and they get knocked around a little bit by life, don’t they seem more open to your suggestions?
How does all of this fit into your estate plan? You knew since I write this estate planning column, I had to bring it back here at some point, right? Let’s discuss managing the inheritance that you leave your loved ones.
First, realize that your estate plan is dynamic, not only because tax laws change, and the estate and trust laws change.
No, an estate plan is dynamic mostly because your loved ones change!
If your children are close in age to mine, you probably want to impose a third-party trustee like a bank or trust company to help manage the money and investments if your loved ones inherit while still young. They might be the most honest, smart and careful young adults, but they still don’t have the life experience that you have.
Don’t get caught in the “curse of knowledge” trap. In other words, just because you learned something as a life lesson doesn’t mean that your adult children have.
For example, is it possible that your children make bad investments with a friend who states that he has the next big software app that will earn millions? All he needs is $100,000 of the inheritance your daughter just received, and they’ll both become the next Bill Gates.
It’s better to impose a wise, learned hand for a few years. Your will or trust can be drafted so that at some point, say, for example, when each beneficiary reaches age 40, your adult children can take full control over their own investments. It can also be drafted so that they can change who the trust company is, so they’re not trapped with an underperforming, overly expensive institution.
There are many options available to you and your loved ones. This goes to the skill that your attorney has not only with his own practice experience, but in translating your life experience to your plan.
This is far from boilerplate.
Having a third-party trustee isn’t a bad idea for some of your older beneficiaries as well. Those who don’t ever seem to make wise life choices, are spendthrifts, or who have dependency problems all are candidates to have a helping hand once you aren’t around anymore.
This should all come out in your initial client interview.
The key, just as what my wife and I did around the dinnertime table, is to share your wisdom with your loved ones and to share your concerns with your estate planning attorney.
In my firm’s Elite Client Care Program, for example, we offer our clients the opportunity to meet with us and their children (over video conferencing if the children aren’t all local) to discuss these important issues together. I’ve found that having the attorney translate how the plan works once constructed, provides a level of clarity and comfort that otherwise might be unattainable, and the plan is consequently more readily accepted.
Share your wisdom. Help guide, but don’t overdo it. And make sure your estate plan keeps up with the changes that constantly occur within your own family.
Now that’s wise.
© 2019 Craig R. Hersch. Originally published in the Sanibel Island Sun.