How do I get control of my family in flux and protect its finances?
“If there is one thing all of us with families know: There will be life changes.”
If you have a family, and it is like most 21st-century families, it is in flux. The oldest Americans now live longer than ever, forcing tough decisions about medical expenses and alternative living arrangements. The youngest sometimes seek to delay adulthood for as long as possible or are forced to do so. And more family members are experiencing multiple marriages and divorces, resulting in children from more than one union, as well as multiple stepparents and stepchildren.
Science, meanwhile, has made child-bearing possible later in life, or even after life. And modern society encourages a wide variety of young adults, from those who are motivated and successful, or “professional” students, to those who pursue their passions outside of a formal education.
In short, today’s families in flux are like quilts, generations stitched together by ever-changing relationships. And with every innovation and attitude shift, as well as people’s ever-increasing mobility, we at Prager Metis CPAs are here to respond.
We are here to help our clients understand the ties that bind and keep all members of their high net worth families financially whole.
As a trusted advisor, we are experienced in navigating confidential, interpersonal issues. We have the ability to assemble the right team of advisors to meet a client’s needs. We are also adept at eliciting the information we need to create a broader vision. Neither you nor we can predict what’s coming, but we can prepare you for the inevitable shift in family patterns.
Of course, the biggest financial risk of any marriage is divorce. Nearly half of marriages end that way, and second marriages fare even worse. If your family member is the “monied” partner, protections should be in place, the prenuptial being the most common one. If a family member is already married, he or she should consider a postnuptial agreement. Trusts, moreover, may be used for asset protection, if carefully planned. These financial tools may also be a more palatable option where one or both parties find the idea of a prenup offensive or “unromantic.”
As to significant others, all generations have them now. Dad may suddenly announce he’s living with a younger woman, who may bring a child or two with her. The couple may even have a child together. Some counseling can help make sure love does not blind Dad to protecting his legacy.
We haven’t the space here for a deep dive into the intricacies of divorce, but consider whether divorce will affect how your assets will be passed to your children. Some states, but not all, provide for automatic termination or revocation of certain legal documents upon divorce or legal separation. Provisions must also be made for post-divorce estate planning and cleanup, including guardianships for minor children, powers of attorney, healthcare proxies, wills, trusts, beneficiary designations and appointment of a trustee or guardian of the estate for property inherited by a child.
Whether the reason is a “failure to launch,” failure to land or something else, grown children can sometimes complicate matters. Someone once said, “Your grown kids are your grade as a parent.” But it’s often not our “D” kid who makes things challenging. “A” kids, particularly those committed to the family business or successful in their own right, may feel entitled to more than another sibling receives, or feel that they are somehow being punished for their success.
For all these reasons and more, all families are in flux, and our job is to be on the offensive. We need to look at estate, gift and income tax planning through multiple lenses. We can also explore the possibility of a family office, which can act as a centralized repository for important financial and legal documents. That in turn can facilitate information sharing and maintenance in the event of life changes.
And if there is one thing all of us with families know: There will be life changes.