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Estate planning attorney shares advice on giving to offspring

As an estate planning attorney, one would think I would endorse giving all your money to your children and grandchildren. Perhaps that isn’t the best idea.

I am reminded of a story about seagulls off the coast of Washington. There was a fishing village that harvested salmon from the ocean for decades. The seagulls of the area stopped gathering food on their own and would instead wait at the pier for the fishing boats to return from the ocean in order to pick the scraps left here and there. It was an easy lunch.

In the 1990s the government began regulating the salmon catch, and this little fishing village essentially disappeared. The large processing plants shut down, and eventually the boats moved to other harbors. Locals began noticing that the seagulls looked malnourished, and then many of them were found dead of starvation at the pier.

For generations the seagulls had relied upon the fishing boats for their food. When the boats disappeared, they lacked the skills necessary to hunt for their own food. Despite being surrounded by all the food they needed, the generations of dependence upon easy food had caused them to lose life-sustaining skills.

Humans are a lot like seagulls.

Of course, I am not advocating disinheriting your loved ones, but as a person of means, even modest wealth, you must be very careful about the money you give away after you die.

Here are a few ideas to protect your children and grandchildren from the seagull syndrome:

1. Tell your children and grandchildren that you are giving all your money to charity, save a few small gifts. Then you can give them the money as a surprise, and thus reduce the dependence that develops from expectations of an inheritance.

2. Be aggressive about keeping your estate-planning private.

3. Set forth conditions of inheritance that include an abstinence from drugs, alcohol and gambling.

4. Require grandchildren to graduate from a fully accredited university.

5. Delay distributions until children and grandchildren are over 30 years old, with much smaller gifts before only for education and special events like weddings, etc.

6. Actually give the money to charity. Many wealthy men and women have told their children that they are giving all their money to charity — and actually do it. You would be amazed at how well their children and grandchildren turn out.

With wealth comes great responsibility. Money can be a great blessing and a great curse. Discuss your options with your estate planning attorney and remember — don’t feed the birds if they will ultimately forget how to fish.

Robert C. Graham Esq. of Rob Graham & Associates, 7375 W. Peak Drive, No. 220, can be reached at 255-6161.

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