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What to Know When Leaving an Inheritance to a Child Struggling with Substance Abuse

Posted by Susan Katzen | Apr 30, 2023 | 0 Comments

As a Newport Beach will lawyer, I've seen firsthand how substance abuse can impact families, leaving parents heartbroken and unsure of how to protect their loved ones while preserving their legacy. In my experience, many parents want to leave an equal inheritance to all their children, but when one child is struggling with addiction, it can significantly complicate matters.

In this blog post, I'll share some empowering, educational, and clear advice on how to navigate this complex situation. We'll explore options that allow you to support your child without enabling their addiction and inspire you to take action and protect your family's future.

The Dangers of an Unrestricted Inheritance

Consider client Jane and her son Michael who struggles with drug addiction. Jane was concerned that leaving Michael a lump sum inheritance would only fuel his addiction and jeopardize his safety. Her hunch is likely right – studies have shown that individuals with substance abuse issues are more likely to use a sudden windfall to support their addiction, putting their health and life at risk. 

To avoid this scenario, we often suggest the following estate planning strategies:

Create a trust: A trust is a legal arrangement that allows a third party, known as a trustee, to hold and manage your assets for your child's benefit. The trustee is required to follow the instructions outlined in the trust, ensuring that your child receives support without enabling their addiction.

Set clear guidelines: You can provide specific instructions to the trustee, such as allowing distributions only for necessities like housing, food, and medical care, or linking distributions to your child's participation in a treatment program.

Choose a reliable trustee: A trustworthy and impartial trustee is crucial to the success of your trust. Consider a professional trustee, such as a bank or trust company, to ensure that your instructions are followed without bias.

Alternatives to a Traditional Inheritance

While creating a trust is a popular choice, there are other options to consider when planning your estate:

Family support: You may instead choose to allocate funds to other family members who can provide financial support to your child in need. However, be cautious of potential conflicts or legal issues that may arise. This is generally not the best (or safest) option.

Charitable donations: You can set up a charitable remainder trust (CRT) or a donor-advised fund (DAF) to support causes that are meaningful to you and your child. These options provide tax benefits and can serve as a lasting legacy for your family.

Direct payments: Rather than providing your child with a lump sum, consider making direct payments for essential expenses such as rent, utilities, and medical bills. This can help your child maintain stability without directly funding their addiction.

The Importance of Open Communication

Finally, it's crucial to have open and honest conversations with your entire family about your estate planning decisions. By explaining the reasons behind your choices, you can help minimize potential conflicts and ensure that everyone understands your intentions.

Taking Action to Protect Your Family's Future

As a Newport Beach will lawyer, my mission is to help local families navigate complex situations like leaving an inheritance to a child struggling with substance abuse. By considering the options outlined in this post, you can create a plan that both safeguards your legacy and provides a helping hand to your child in need.

If you're ready to take action and stop procrastinating, reach out to our office at 714-374-2244 to schedule a confidential consultation. We have experience working through these difficult situations with families, and we're here to help you find a path that works best for you and your loved ones.

About the Author

Susan Katzen

"I firmly believe our clients should be treated the way I would want my own family members to be treated. As a result, not only have I put together a compassionate and highly skilled team of people, but together we have served families from the grandparents down to the grandchildren. My staff and...


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