"Did the apple fall far from the tree?" Addressing challenging heirs in estate planning.

January 20, 2015

Originally published in the Palm Beach Daily News - Estate Planning Supplement, Jan 11, 2015. 

 

Did the Apple Fall Far From the Tree?

Lean on Trusted Advisors in Structuring Your Child’s Affairs and Opportunities for Good Choices and Growth.

BY PATRICK M. WHITEHEAD, JD, LL.M 
WHITEHEAD LAW OFFICES

Parents want the best for their children; they want to provide their children with lives better than their own. Parents want their children to be self-supportive and self-actualized in all aspects of their lives not only financially, but emotionally and physically as well. I dare say that every person has faced some form of trauma or deep feeling of emotional loss or uncertainty during their lives, the result of which is learned irrational “self-protective” behaviors that harm the person, immediate family and loved ones. Humans are adaptive by nature, and our individual perceptions of life are relative. For example, a child truly abandoned by one parent and raised by the other one compared with a child raised in a two-parent household, but in which one of the parents was barely present due to the rigors of operating a successful family business, can create the same perceived feelings of abandonment, loss and longing for approval. Unresolved emotional wounding will cause great emotional turmoil in a family, stunting the true potential of the wounded child and the rest of the family, and often leads to substance abuse, or other form of unhealthy addiction, to ease the continuing emotional pain.

Addressing any form of addiction is no simple matter; it takes great internal strength and willingness on the part of the addict to face the root of the emotional pain. The healing process begins by acknowledging and owning what is rather than persisting in a state of continual disappointment based on expectations of how life should be. The truth of a matter can be a hard pill to swallow, and it often cannot be received from anyone perceived by the addict to be part of the problem. There are many caring professionals in the field of mental health, such as intervention counselors, therapists and psychiatrists, and many lay persons, such as pastors, rabbis and other spiritual leaders and mentors, who stand ready to come alongside you to encourage and support an addict’s recovery. Many professionals in the field of estate planning were called to it out of a true desire to help their clients and enrich their lives far beyond mere accumulation of dollars and cents.

Lean on and utilize your trusted advisors, your estate planning attorney, accountant, financial advisor and trust officer, each of whom will be instrumental in structuring your child’s affairs and opportunities for good choices and growth. Trusted advisors with the right heart and experience, and working relationships with known and effective intervention counselors, recovery programs, therapists, psychiatrists, medical doctors, and, yes, sometimes criminal defense attorneys, can create mechanisms through your estate plan to grow, mature and develop a child into a whole, joyful and self-actualized adult.

In my opinion, “bad apples” were never the exception but were always the rule; we just didn’t talk about it. In my life and my estate planning practice, I have observed that even the best parenting can yield unexpected results; it is a consequence of the chaotic, fast-paced and hectic world in which we live – no one goes through the crucible of life without bumps and bruises, and some come through with lacerations and broken legs. Well-meaning parents are asking their wounded children to run the race of life prior to the mending of those “broken legs.” Work with a trusted advisor whose hope, like yours, is to see your child walk, not one who views his role as simply saying “no” only as needed to prevent a death or other disturbance to the estate, for this is doubtfully the standard against which you hoped your child’s life would be measured.

An estate plan, like cash, is simply a tool; it is a means, not the end. The work of preserving your legacy will be accomplished through the relationships you form. Your estate planning attorney must possess the legal savvy, tax knowledge and technical know-how to draft a legally effective estate plan; however, that only gets him through the door. To have a seat at the table, your attorney must demonstrate compassion, appreciation and an understanding of your family’s unique emotional needs, and your family’s mission and vision. Your trusted advisor should be committed to the preservation of your true legacy, your children; the recipients of your genetic make-up and the wisdom passed down through the prior generations that gave you life.

The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements. Before you decide, ask us to send you free written information about our qualifications and experience.