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Giving your children their inheritance now, instead of passing it on in a will, can be very satisfying. Here are some things to consider before fast-tracking your legacy.
TURNS OUT YOUR GRANDSON, the computer geek, wasn't wasting all that time on the couch with his laptop after all. Now he has created a killer mobile app and is working day and night to launch his own company. Or maybe your daughter has just finished her Ph.D. in microbiology and wants to become a founding partner in a biotech startup. Then there's your favorite grandniece, who's going to need a private coach to take her love for figure skating to the next level.
Even if you always thought of your financial legacy as something you'd leave your family after you're gone, real-life needs keep popping up—needs that could be met if you were willing to give now instead of waiting to pass your legacy on in your will.
Sixty percent of people 50 and older would prefer to give sooner rather than later, saying they want to enjoy helping their children pursue their dreams.
In fact, many people are making the choice to give now. According to a 2013 Merrill Lynch retirement study, Family & Retirement: The Elephant in the Room, 60% of people age 50 and older would prefer to give sooner rather than later, saying they want to be there to enjoy helping their children pursue their dreams. Women in particular favor that approach, with 65% saying they'd rather pass along an inheritance during retirement, compared with 53% of men who feel that way. Additionally, the tax laws have changed over the past decade, and the amount you are allowed to give away during your lifetime that is exempt from the gift tax is several times larger than it used to be. But for lifetime giving to be successful, there are some important issues to consider.
"It’s important to take the time and be deliberate in thinking through whether transferring some of your wealth makes sense now,” says Stacy Allred, head of the Center for Family Wealth at Merrill Lynch. “Think about the potential rewards and risks not only from your standpoint, but also that of your family members,” she adds. Consider asking yourself the following three questions before you rewrite your will.
If I give to one, must I give to all? Some of your children may prefer to wait for their inheritance, while others could benefit greatly from having the money now. "The most effective approach to giving may vary widely from one family to the next, with different individuals having different needs," says Allred.
For instance, if your grandson's startup requires seed money to be able to beat the competition to market, and other investors are hard to come by, giving him his entire inheritance now might make a lot of sense. You'll get the satisfaction of seeing him invest in his future. And he won't have to defer his dream. But consider, too, how other family members may feel about the gift, and what their immediate needs are. Talk with everyone, and make it clear that gifting now could affect how much they will receive later on, in your will.
The tax laws have changed over the past decade, and the amount you are allowed to give away during your lifetime that is exempt from the gift tax is several times larger than it used to be.
Is it a gift—or a burden? Larger gifts, in particular, sometimes bring unwanted responsibilities. Ask yourself: Does your daughter want to run the family business? Does your son feel well suited to manage your private foundation? If, for example, you give one child control of a trust—and discretion over distributions to other family members—could you be thrusting that child into an unwelcome position?
Am I over-giving? Before you give, work with your advisor to determine what you need for the rest of your life—and make sure you've set those resources aside. Otherwise, you may shortchange not only yourself but the very family members you're trying to help. You don't want to put them in a position of having to support you later on. Allred notes that this is a major concern for many families, with parents or grandparents giving away more of their wealth than they can realistically afford, then finding themselves without enough money to support their lifestyles.
For some people, the best approach is to give both now and later, Allred adds. "This provides you the flexibility to start small, and allows both the giver and receiver to benefit from the power of learning by experience what it means to be an effective giver and receiver. Then, if you choose to also leave assets through a will or testamentary trust, you can do so with added clarity, increasing the probability that your gift will be productive."
1 Neither Merrill Lynch nor any of its affiliates or financial advisors provide legal, tax or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.