What to Do When Political Differences Invade a Household
It may not be a news flash that family members sometimes do not see things the same way. This has been the case since the beginning of time. However, the impact that the current political climate has had on family relations and estate planning has been interesting to observe. In fact, it has been reported that a shift in American family values is at least, in part, responsible for growing levels of estrangement between parents and adult children. While it is not uncommon for those who live in the same household or are part of the same family, to have different political views; sometimes, however, the differences are so great that they are causing clients to consider disinheriting a child or other family member because of it. Before you proceed with this drastic step, please keep in mind that there may be a better way to accomplish your goals that does not involve disinheriting the child completely.
In our experience, families are generally fairly tolerant of varying political views. However, in recent years and especially in light of recent events, it seems as though things have gotten far more fractured. Typically, parents and children just agree to disagree, and the vast majority of parents leave their property equally to their kids, regardless of politics. But some parents might be genuinely concerned about the use of those funds if they leave property to a child with extreme views (in their mind). The assets they have worked hard for may end up funding purposes they are opposed to.
While almost every state in the U.S. has some protections for spouses, children are generally not given the same heirship rights. In all states except Louisiana (in certain circumstances), a person can completely disinherit a child. In New York, while you are not required to mention the child you are disinheriting, it may be a good idea to do so to make it clear that the child has been intentionally omitted and that it was not an oversight. You may also consider leaving a reduced amount to this child and stating that if he or she challenges the will that their share will be reduced to nothing. If done properly, these types of in terrorem clauses can be very effective in making sure that your wishes get carried out after you pass away.
So, now that we know you can disinherit a child if you want to, the question becomes: should you? When clients indicate that they are considering drastic action like disinheriting a child, we often try to dig deeper and ask why they want to do this to get a better understanding. The better option is to leave the child’s inheritance to a trust.
As we have discussed on numerous occasions in this column, leaving an inheritance in trust has several benefits, and one of them is the ability to create a plan that is specifically tailored to your needs and the needs of your children. In situations where the parents have political differences with the child, the trust can specify what funds should be used for and when. Parents can add as many specifics as desired. The trust could even provide that if the child’s views moderate over time, he or she could receive the entire balance. Or that, if the child remains extreme, no money is ever disbursed to the child. Someone other than the child should be trustee and make decisions regarding investments and distributions. Often clients choose other family members, but a family friend or professional (such as a bank or trust company) might also be viable options.
As you can see, a trust might be just what is needed if you and your children are on different ends of the political spectrum and you are concerned about how your money will be spent when you are gone. With a trust, you do not have to disinherit your child and you can control how the funds are spent after your death.
Bernard A. Krooks, Esq., is a founding partner of Littman Krooks LLP and has been honored as one of the “Best Lawyers” in America for each of the last seven years. He is past President of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and past President of the New York Chapter of NAELA. Mr. Krooks has also served as chair of the Elder Law Section of the New York State Bar Association. He has been selected as a “New York Super Lawyer” since 2006. Mr. Krooks may be reached at (914-684-2100) or by visiting the firm’s website at www.elderlawnewyork.com.