When I was a boy my mother would have me set the table every other day. My brother would take the days I wasn't given this task. She was fast to look over my shoulder to make sure the fork was on the correct side of the table. Today my wife and I do the same with our son. Knowing which side of the plate the fork goes on is not a core life skill one must have to function in society; however, we are teaching him to focus on little things.
Legendary Coach John Wooden once said "It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen." Today we often hear people say you have to see the big picture. You have to think big, dream big, etc. The fact is the details matter. You can say I want to help my children and that is why I am cutting corners. When I die they will have something. But what are you wanting them to do with the money? How are you wanting to help? Do they want your help?
To answer these questions you have to get into the details which can become overwhelming for many people. Therefore, I have worked out a system to help you. This system is broken into three parts; your life goals, your children's (or heirs’) needs, and financial ability.
First, you must decide what you want your life to be. To decide this write out these five words: purpose, social, financial, community, and physical. Then write below each word what that means to you. Can you pay for that with your income and assets? If so go to step two.
Step two is not as simple. Here I want you to answer the question: what do your children need (not want)? For this I do not expect you to ask them. Asking them might give them a false belief you are about to give them something or that something is wrong with you. I suggest you spend time with them. Watch what they are interested in and what they would like to have more time doing. Is there something they are missing? Once you have done this you can answer the question.
Step three, can you afford to provide that help without giving up on what you wrote out in step one? I will tell you if you sacrifice your happiness to leave a small inheritance for your children it will not provide the happiness you desire for them to have. If the answer is yes, then you need to simply make sure you are clear in your estate work.
I once had a client request I draft his estate plan in such a way as to prevent his children from receiving a penny of their inheritance until they had reached the age of 65. He said, “even if they are on their death bed they get nothing unless they are 65”. He was a happy older man who was still somewhat active but who had, in his words, “slowed down in recent years”. The reason for this extreme request was his desire to leave a nest egg for their retirement. He told me that he knew he couldn't leave them much but if what he did have was left alone for 20 years or so then he could die knowing they would have one shot at not being homeless in retirement, which was his real goal.
He had paid attention to his children and knew they wasted money. He knew they weren't saving for retirement and needed to be. So while it would have been easy for him to say if my child is dying let them have it, in his mind someone dying didn't need extra money and that wasn't the purpose of leaving an inheritance for them. Is this father right? That isn't for me to say. But his estate is detailed and accomplishes his goal.
The reason I teach my son to say yes sir and no sir is because it helps him to pay attention to others and it is a little thing that can make a difference. Paying attention matters and if you want big results you must learn to pay attention to little things.
That, and knowing which is the dessert fork:)
Jason A. Waddell is a Board Certified Florida Elder Law Attorney who practices on the Panhandle of Florida.