When Your Heirs Want Their Inheritance in Advance

Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. (Luke 15:11-13)


I follow a few discussion groups on social media that discuss retirement planning. Recently, one senior person shared how his adult children are pressuring him and his spouse to: 1. Stop spending on themselves; and 2. Give them their inheritance now. In addition, it was noted that they had paid for the entirety of their children’s post-secondary education, allowing them to graduate debt-free, a significant leg up that many young adults would envy.


For a moment, I thought that this person had plucked their story straight out of the New Testament Parable of the Prodigal Son. However, based on the subsequent dialogue, it seems it is a real-life experience that this retired couple is enduring now.


Giving an Inheritance in Advance

There is nothing wrong with providing an advance on the inheritance that you eventually want to give to your children. I think it is a great choice to “give with a warm hand” while you are alive, rather than wait until it is done by your estate.


Many parents of adult children are already doing that, of course, in the form of providing cash for a down payment on a home. Earlier in their children’s lives, they may have also funded their children’s post-secondary education, as this couple had.



I suspect that most people would find this story of young adults demanding an early inheritance to be offensive. It has often been the case that children had no idea of what their parents were worth before they died. Then, as the executor works through the details of the estate, they may find that they have suddenly received a large windfall. On the other hand, beneficiaries of some estates may find that little or nothing remains.


Tradition Revised

My inclination is to revise this tradition of secrecy about the value of one’s estate. For the most part, I believe it is better to let your children know well in advance of your death. Furthermore, if there are reasons why you are treating them differently, you will do well to let them know and give reasons why.


For example, if you have a substantial estate, you may be prepared to give an unencumbered portion directly to one child. For another, however, there may be a history of bad spending decisions, which may suggest that a trust be established that distributes the money in installments over several years. Or a child with a disability may not have the capacity to handle money at all, which may call for another kind of trust with its own terms.


Four Reasons to Share Estate Plans Openly

  1. Promoting openness between parents and adult children is generally a good thing. Although estrangements do occur, when parents show that they value the opinions of their children, it promotes respect and understanding.
  2. Openness allows you to explain your reason for the decisions you make and reduces surprises and disputes after your death. Minimizing the prospect of conflicts or legal challenges is a superior legacy to leaving your children angry with each other.
  3. Financial planning! Having a better grasp of their parents’ financial situation will help the children plan their finances and understand any potential complexities to the estate.
  4. The practical considerations. Assuming that you, the parents, are not going to be hiring a professional estate trustee, involving your adult children in the preparations that have been made – or not – for powers of attorney, health care directives, and the terms of the wills, will give them some confidence that these important life events will be dealt with and that the responsible members of the family are identified. Although often considered an honour, being named an executor is an onerous task, so it is best to fully inform the person(s) who will be given the task and why.


Four Reasons to Keep Your Estate Plans Confidential

  1. I would like to say that there aren’t any good reasons for maintaining confidentiality, but you still retain the choice not to share. These may be wrapped up in one’s upbringing, unconscious beliefs about money, experiences with your own parents’ deaths, or a general reticence about sharing financial matters.
  2. Life changes. Even if you eventually intend to tell the beneficiaries of your estate what to expect, now may not be the right time to do so. None of us can live our lives with certainty, however, so this rationale needs to be held as lightly as the plans we make. If there are no other reasons to refrain from sharing, I would encourage sharing what you can, explaining that they are subject to change.
  3. If your family has tensions and conflicts, especially about money, or you have several children who are at significantly different places financially, then getting into the details may be unwise. Again, share what you can, but stick to the broader terms rather than specifics.
  4. As with the story that began this blog post, fear of exploitation from one’s children may argue against sharing estate plans. It’s a sad situation, but of the various forms of elder abuse, financial abuse is among the most common. Sharing too much in the way of financial details may further incite the desire of your unscrupulous children to take advantage of you.


Should You Disinherit Your Greedy Children?

This was the overwhelming advice given on the forum where the parents shared their disheartening situation. Although I understand the instinct, is this the way to live with your family? Embittered and estranged? Here are a few ideas.



If you are in or near retirement, you may be concerned about your long-term financial security. State that clearly. An early inheritance may simply not be in the cards at your stage in life. Explain your estate plans in general terms. In short, set clear boundaries.



When our children entered their post-secondary years, we told them that we had money set aside for them in an RESP. Beyond that, they had to cover their expenses from scholarships, bursaries, loans, and summer jobs. I’m not going to suggest that my wife and I are the ultimate examples of financially educating our kids, but they eventually learned some lessons on financial responsibility. One might hope that they have seen your approach to establishing your financial stability, careful spending, and diligent saving and investing over the decades. But, even if they have not, and admittedly, those sorts of activities may not have had much appeal to them in their earlier years, hopefully, something will rub off.


Engage Them in Estate Planning

Your estate plan is yours alone, but as part of the recommendation to communicate, share some of the values and purposes that guided you in your estate planning process. Of course, this requires you to create wills for yourselves. According to a survey by the Angus Reid Institute, half of Canadians say they don’t have a will, including about 20% of Canadians aged 55 or older. If you don’t have a will, or your current will needs revising, part of your process might involve engaging your children in your estate plans.


Seek Family Counselling

It may be worth it to reach out to someone with a professional background to help guide you as the parents, perhaps including the adult children if they are open to it, to work with you. There may be patterns of thought that need to be clarified and reframed. If these efforts lead to better communication and understanding between parents and children, this is all for the good.


Seek Legal Counsel

If efforts at communication and engagement do not appear to be working, then you may need to talk with your wills and estates lawyer to ensure that you are protected against attempts at financial abuse. This may be less about the will than about who you have granted power of attorney. Although we tend to name our spouse or children as our attorneys to take care of our property or health care if we are incapacitated, it may be wise to appoint someone outside of your family, perhaps even a professional.



I cannot help but think of experiences like this as being a terrible source of grief for an older couple. Estate planning language often refers to leaving a legacy. Although this is often interpreted as a bequest to a charity, perhaps for most of us our legacies are first and foremost our children. When that legacy is a source of pain, it’s hard not to feel bitter. For readers of this blog post, I encourage you to work on your estate plans and consider ways in which you can involve your children as early as you can.


This is the 202nd blog post for Russ Writes, first published on 2023-06-19


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Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for general information and discussion purposes only. It should not be relied upon for investment, insurance, tax, or legal decisions.


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