Making gifts or loans to your children? Mention this in your will

Many parents make gifts or loans to their children. Often they give more money to one child than to others, perhaps because one child has a greater need. If you do make a significant gift or loan to one of your heirs, you should modify your will to address it.

The reason: If something happens to you, it might be unclear to your heirs what the effect of the gifts or loans should be on their inheritance. In some families, this kind of uncertainty can lead to family battles and even a legal challenge to the will. But even if this doesn’t happen, some children might be quietly offended or simply uncertain, and you probably want to avoid that if possible.

So if you are leaving some children more assets in your will than others as a result of gifts made during your lifetime, it’s a good idea to explain your reasoning in your will. If you’re leaving all your children equal shares in spite of having given some of them more gifts than others in your lifetime, you should say that as well – so there’s no question whether the lifetime gifts should be treated as an “advance” on their inheritance.

What if a loan is outstanding at the time you die? You might want to make clear that any such loan doesn’t have to be repaid, and doesn’t affect the distribution in your will. On the other hand, if you want the loan to be treated as an advance against an inheritance, you should make that clear.

If you want a loan to be repaid after your death or to be treated as an advance against an inheritance, then you should have a written loan agreement with your child. You might also want to specify in the agreement that any forgiveness has to be in writing, so your child can’t claim after you die that at some point you forgave the loan.

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