Navigating the world of inheritance can be a minefield, especially for parents balancing their own needs with their children's future financial security.
This article explores 13 practical strategies to help you determine the best way to distribute your wealth, reduce financial stress, and maximize positive outcomes for your family.
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An even split between beneficiaries
If calculating exactly how much cash to leave each of your children sounds too complex, the easiest route might be to instruct your kids to equally split the assets you leave behind.
That way, everyone gets the same fair share of your estate, and everyone can hopefully get ahead financially.
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Enough to pay off a house
Owning a home is a huge financial burden; paying one off completely could change your children’s financial lives.
If your kids own homes and you want to help them own that property free and clear, you’ll probably need to plan on leaving each kid a few hundred thousand dollars each.
The total amount they’d need depends on how long they’ve owned the home and how much they’ve already paid toward their mortgage.
Enough for a down payment
If you’re worried about your kids’ ability to transition from renting to owning, but you can’t (or don’t want to) leave behind enough to buy a home flat-out, consider setting aside enough money to constitute a down payment on a reasonably priced home.
The minimum down payment for first-time homebuyers securing a conventional loan is 3%, but buyers must put down 20% to avoid paying for private mortgage insurance.
For a $300,000 home, the amount of money you’d need to leave behind would run between $9,000 (3% down) and $60,000 (20% down).
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Enough for each grandchild to attend college
Affording college without loans is pretty much impossible for most American students, and it’s not hard to see why.
If your grandkids attend an in-state public university and earn a four-year degree, they can expect to pay an average of $26,027 per year or $104,108 overall.
If you value education and want to help your grandkids succeed, consider earmarking enough money to cover at least one year’s college expenses.
Up to $17,000 per year during your lifetime
Want to spread out your inheritance while you’re still alive? You can gift up to $17,000 per individual per year without having to report it. (The $17,000 limit applies to the 2023 tax year and might change in subsequent tax years.)
A set amount via a trust
Worried about leaving behind a lump sum that your kids will blow through too quickly? Consider setting up a trust with specific disbursement requirements.
You can require your kids to spend their trust fund money on specific expenses only (for instance, going to college or starting a business). You could also set up a trust to disperse a set annual amount only at regular intervals.
Enough for a once-in-a-lifetime experience
Instead of scrambling to ensure your kids receive tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars after your death, consider leaving behind enough for each kid to enjoy the experience of a lifetime.
Maybe one child has always wanted to travel to Malaysia, while another has dreamed of visiting every theme park in the United States. Whatever your child’s dream, calculate how much it would cost and work toward setting aside that amount.
Enough for a special one-time purchase
It’s popular to advocate for experiences over possessions, but possessions are necessary, too — and buying a long-wished-for item can be an amazing experience in itself.
Consider leaving your kids enough to buy something they’ve always wanted, whether a boat, a pool table, or a heavy-duty dog run.
Enough that your kids can do “anything,” but not so much that they can afford to do “nothing”
While Warren Buffett has set aside money for each of his kids, he’s given far more of his fortune to charity.
The billionaire reportedly recommends other parents do the same by leaving enough money for their kids to pursue their dreams and participate in philanthropy work of their own — but not so much that their kids can afford to sit around doing nothing all day.
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Exactly as much as you can afford
It’s only natural to want your kids to be comfortable after your death. However, it’s not worth risking your financial health just to leave behind money your kids might not actually need.
As a senior on a budget, you need to think about your own expenses first, especially medical costs that will likely escalate as you age. Everything else, including inheritance, should be secondary.
An unequal split between beneficiaries
Nothing says you have to leave each of your children the same amount of money, especially if one child has struggled financially through no fault of their own and another has excelled.
If you don’t leave behind a will, your estate will be split equally, so make sure to draw up a will that designates how much money goes to each child.
Additionally, carefully consider whether unequally partitioning your assets is a good choice for your family.
The resentment it could engender between siblings might upend previously good relationships, and a divided, embittered family isn’t the legacy most parents want to leave behind.
Whatever is left behind after charitable donations
It’s alright to prioritize leaving your money to charity over leaving it to your kids, especially if you feel they can financially fend for themselves.
Instead of addressing inheritance from a kids-first perspective, calculate exactly how much money you want to leave to your favorite charities. Whatever is left over can go to your kids.
No parent is obligated to leave any money to their kids (or anyone else, for that matter).
If you’d rather give your wealth to charity, encourage your kids to work hard without relying on your help or leave your money to another person or persons entirely, you’re well within your rights to do so.
There's no right answer to how much money you should leave your children. In the end, what you leave behind — and who you leave it to — is entirely up to you.
If you're still on the fence about how to divvy up your cash, sit down with a financial advisor. They can help you avoid making mistakes with your inheritance so you'll have peace of mind while you're still alive.