We are our children's bankers--at least we start off that way. When our children are young and living under our wing, we try to teach them the value of money and how the financial world works. How else will they grow up to make responsible financial decisions.
Despite our best parental advice, they may start their independent lives off fiscally wobbly--wobblier than we were at their age. They may have hefty bills to pay: college and car loans and smart phone services. The world we came to independence in may not jibe with the financial experiences our young adult kids are having today.
All of which begs the question: At what point should we expect our children to be self-sufficient? When does the Bank of Mom and Dad close? It's an emotional as well as financial question.
Financial planners and advisers generally stick to the fiscal side of the equation. So let's do that as well. First up is the question of whether we can afford to keep the bank open. That is, can we help our kids without impoverishing ourselves or stripping our retirement savings. If we clear that hurdle, here are some tips from the experts that we might not have thought about.
Set clear expectations: Have a heart-to-heart with the bank's "client" about what we are prepared to help them with and to what extent. If it's ongoing support, the bankers should set a time limit for how long we'll keep doing this. We might ask them to make a contribution rather than giving them all of what they need.
Act like a banker:If our child went to a real bank to borrow money they would need to disclose their assets, debts, income and expenses so the bank could decide whether to lend or not. No reason why the bank of mom and dad shouldn't do the same. We need to understand why our child is in the situation they are in. If we expect money to be repaid, we need to know how likely it is that this will happen.
Get legal advice for large sums: Payback disputes happen. To avoid them , have a written loan agreement. If your adult child has a partner, there may be legal issues if the relationship ends. Will the loan or gift become relationship property? These are some of the issues that need legal advice.
Consider your other children:They ought to know upfront about what help we are giving their brother or sister and why. Sibling rivalry exists, and your other children can feel deeply hurt by being treated unequally unless they understand the reasons. You can address the equality issue by making adjustments to how you divide your estate, taking into account prior assistance.
Complications if there's a divorce: It's a remote possibility but a possibility nonetheless that if we consistently --that is on, say, an annual basis--gift our child money that improves the family’s lifestyle, it could effect support obligations if the marriage falls apart. In a Canadian case, a judge considered those gifts to be part of the son's income for determining support obligations.