I was sitting in the doctor's lounge, enjoyingmy first cup of coffee, when my friend andcolleague Dr. Joe Youngblood sat downnext to me. "Good morning, Joe," I said, "nothinglike that first cup of coffee." Surprisingly,Joe didn't respond. Instead, he remained silentin his chair with a strange look in hiseyes. I had seen this look before, thelook that says: "I'm in trouble and Ineed your advice to bail me out fast."I quickly realized Joe had a pressingagenda this morning.
Dr. Youngblood: Lou, I need youradvice. I'm meeting with my attorneythis afternoon about my estate plan. Hewants to know what my goals are for mychildren before he decides how to structuretheir trust funds, and I don't knowwhat to tell him.
Dr. Constan: Okay, let's talk thisout. What do you want your children'slives to be like when you die?
Dr. Youngblood: Well, I want themto be comfortable and to get a goodeducation, but I don't want to give themtoo much money when they're young. If I do, theymight become lazy. Then they wouldn't amount tomuch in life, just like my cousin Vinny. How do Iprovide them with the necessary tools to be successfulin life without overindulging them?
Dr. Constan: That's a difficult question, Joe.I'm afraid there's not a universal answer. How didyour parents become so successful?
Dr. Youngblood: My parents weren't reallysuccessful. My father worked in a factory and mymother was a housewife.
Dr. Constan: Not successful? Your parentsraised a child who became an accomplished physician.Obviously, they were successful.
Dr. Youngblood (pursing his lips):
Hmm. Inever thought about it that way.
Dr. Constan: Well, you should. So, how didyour parents become so successful?
Dr. Youngblood: Well, my fatherworked very hard. I rarely saw himbecause of his long work hours. Mymother shared my father's work ethicand took excellent care of the family.Throughout my childhood, they alwaystold me I was really smart and that Ineeded to get an education. They alsoencouraged me to aim high.
Dr. Constan: Have you relayed similarmessages to your own children?
Dr. Youngblood: Actually, no, Ihaven't. Do you think I should?
Dr. Constan: Of course you should.How are you going to set up a trustfund if you don't know what to expectfrom your children? By the way, do youknow what your wife wants to do aboutthe trust fund?
Dr. Youngblood: I haven't asked her. Do youthink I should seek her opinion?
Dr. Constan: It depends. Does she share theresponsibility of raising the children or have anopinion about how the family money is spent?Honestly, Joe, sometimes you can be so dense.
Dr. Youngblood: Sorry, my faithful oldguru. I'll get right on it. Before I do, could yousuggest some goals I should keep in mind whencreating the fund?
Dr. Constan: Your kids know that you canafford to send them to the best schools. In the caseof your death, they'll expect to find the money fortheir education in their trust funds. Your lawyerwill understand this. A better question to ask is,"Do your kids have the drive to become more successfulthan you are?"
Dr. Youngblood: Why would my children wantto be more successful than I am? I'm a doctor;there isn't much room for their improvement.
Dr. Constan: Joe, you're in big trouble if youbelieve that. Your children need to have their ownprofessional goals, a vision of what they want toaccomplish in their lifetime. Otherwise, they won'twork and will just live off the trust fund. RememberBill Schwartz, the general surgeon? That's exactlywhat his children do. Do you want your children togrow up and become trust-fund casualties?
Dr. Youngblood: Of course not. I'm going towarn the trust officer to cut them off if they try tolive off their trust fund.
Dr. Constan: That won't work, Joe. The fact isyour kids will eventually receive their trust money;tinkering with their trust agreement is no way togive them any motivation.
Dr. Youngblood: What do you suggest I do?
Dr. Constan: Invest some time and effort intogood parenting right now. Encourage your kids tobecome their best, just as your parents encouragedyou. Then get a jump-start on the future today.Figure out what you're going to tell them if theydecide to attend a "party" school or take a year offafter college to "find themselves." Next, make sureyou have enough money in savings or insurance toprovide them with the financial resources they'llneed when you're gone. When you've accomplishedthis, your job is done. Except for findingways to decrease your estate taxes, you can forgetabout your estate plan.
Louis L. Constan, afamily practice physicianin Saginaw, Mich,is the editor of theSaginaw County MedicalSociety Bulletin andMichigan Family Practice.He welcomes questionsor comments at3350 Shattuck Road,Saginaw, MI 48603;517-792-1895; or email@example.com.