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Dividing Assets, Not Children

March 31, 1995|CONNIE KOENENN

"Children are our most important possessions," says attorney Gerald Condon. "We do our best to keep them together while we're alive--we don't want them to crumble after we die." There is a right way and a wrong way to leave money to children. Gerald and Jeffrey Condon discuss some common mistakes:

* Don't keep secrets. Although parents are frequently reluctant to convene the family and discuss inheritance plans--fearing disputes, or just not wanting to talk about the subject--a full and frank discussion is the foremost tool in avoiding inheritance problems. It's usually a great relief to everyone.

* Treat your children equally. If you've given one child more money for education or a home loan or anything else over the years, you should balance it out in the inheritance plan. You might not be keeping a score card, but the brothers and sisters are, no matter what they say, and grievances that date back to childhood ("Dad always liked you best!") can be activated.

* Don't die with a child owing you money. It makes the debtor child a debtor to your other children and they will not be as forgiving as you were.

* Don't give more to an unsuccessful child because he or she "needs it." It is not economic justice--it will be perceived as punishing success and rewarding failure, and can cause a permanent rift between your children.

* Think carefully before disinheriting a child. Usually it's done because the child has become totally estranged, or is an alcoholic or drug abuser and the parent believes the money will be thrown away. But too often the result is to make the disinherited child dependent on your other children, camping on their doorsteps and making them feel guilty.

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