Retirement Income

Thu, 26 Apr, 2018Danielle McCarthy

5 basic principles to follow when giving adult children money

5 basic principles to follow when giving adult children money

The link between money and relationships is undeniable. Money issues can break couples apart, destroy relationships between siblings and cause tension between parents and adult children.

Parents have an important role in ensuring their children are not only financially literate but are able to make sound financial decisions and act responsibly with their money.

There is big difference between financial literacy and financial capability. This means parents have a continuing role to guide their children past childhood so they not only understand money concepts but know how to put them into practice as they face major decisions and events in their adult life.

However, different attitudes towards money and expectations about parental responsibilities can cause serious issues for both parents and adult children.

To what extent should parents interfere with or criticise their children's financial decisions and behaviour? Is it reasonable for adult children to expect financial assistance from their parents at times of need? At what point should parents expect their children to be self-sufficient?

Every parent wants to see their children succeed but there are different philosophies about how best to help children get ahead in life. Some parents feel the best way to help their children is to give them a hand through gifts of money or interest-free loans. Others think it is only by children pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps that they will learn how to be successful. These deep philosophical differences can be problematic when one parent has a different view from the other and when children have expectations of parents which are not aligned with their parents' philosophy.

Parents give money to their children because it makes them feel as though they are being better parents. It is good to give to others, especially your own family, but there are dangers involved. Giving too much or too often can lead to financial dependency, lack of responsibility, repeated poor financial behaviour, enablement of problem behaviours such as addictions or over-spending, delayed retirement or increased financial risk for parents, and resentment from siblings if one child is seen to be receiving more assistance than the others.

There are some basic principles which will help decide how and when to support adult children:

Decide how much you can afford to give

Every financial decision has long-term consequences. The more you give to your children, the less you will have later on to pay off your mortgage or save for retirement. Make sure you are financially secure before helping others, or financial strife will simply transfer from them to you.

Set clear expectations

Have conversations with your children about what you are prepared to help them with and to what extent. If you are providing ongoing support, set a time limit for how long this will continue. Expect your children to make a contribution rather than giving them all of what they need.

Act like a banker

If your adult children went to the bank to borrow money they would need to fully disclose their assets, debts, income and expenses so the bank could decide whether to lend or not. You need to do the same. Make sure you understand why your children are in the situation they are in and what behaviours they need to change to avoid being in the same situation again. If you expect money to be repaid, you need to know how likely it is that this will happen.

Get legal advice for large sums

It may be necessary to have written loan agreements for large sums to avoid disputes later. If your adult child has a partner, you will need to consider what might happen to a loan or gift to your child in the event that the relationship ends as it may become relationship property.

Consider your other children

Be upfront with your other children about what help you are giving and why. Sibling rivalry is natural, and children can feel deeply hurt by being treated unequally unless they understand the reasons. Equality can be achieved in the long run by making adjustments to how your estate is divided, taking into account prior assistance.

It is good to help your adult children but in many cases, teaching them how to make better financial choices is more beneficial than handing out money.

Do you agree with this advice?

Written by Liz Koh. Republished with permission of