Being fair when helping adult kids with money

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Q. My kids are polar opposites. One has a great career and a family, and the other one has unstable jobs and is single. The single one asks me for money a few times a year, and I usually give it. How can I make sure I’m being fair to both kids?
— Fairly Odd Dad

A. The desire to be fair to children who have very different financial needs is very common.

Before you consider what you can do for your children, you need to take a look at your own financial situation.

Consider working with a financial advisor to quantify how much you can afford to help your family members without jeopardizing your own retirement and other goals that are important to you, said Amanda Lott, a certified financial planner with RegentAtlantic Capital in Morristown.

Lott said if it’s important to you to keep equal the dollars gifted to both children, one way that you could potentially do that is by establishing 529 plans for your grandchildren.

“You could contribute at holidays, birthdays and shore up any gifts that you’ve made to your other child by making contributions to the 529s that would eventually be utilized to pay for their college education,” Lott said. “While not a gift directly to your well-off child, it is certainly a way to benefit him and his family financially in a way that is more specific to his situation.”

If college education is already funded for your grandchildren, you could ask your son if there is a charity that you could give to on his family’s behalf, Lott said. This could be a gift to his alma mater, his family’s religious in situation, or a cause that is important to him and classified as a 501(c)(3) charity.

“In addition to equalizing the gifts between your children, this would result in an income tax deduction on your tax return, assuming that you itemize your deductions,” Lott said.

Another idea would be to even out the gifts made to your children once you pass away. Perhaps you have a retirement account, and you could direct that a higher percentage be left to your child to whom you did not provide as much financial assistance to over your lifetime, Lott said.

“Keep me mind that this would require you to update your beneficiary designations with the custodian, as your will does not control how your retirement assets are disposed of upon death,” Lott said.

You’ll also have to keep good records over the years so you know how much you’re giving to your son who needs help now.

“Keep in mind that the annual amount that you can gift to any individual gift-tax free is $14,000,” Lott said. “Once you start gifting above that amount on an annual basis, you should work with your accountant or tax attorney to make sure the proper documentation is completed.”

Read about some other ways to make things “fair” for your adult kids here.

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This story was first posted in December 2015. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.