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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  A family that pays together, stays together, but the key is to set the limits
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A family that pays together, stays together, but the key is to set the limits

When helping out children, parents must set the limits in terms of money and time

While the child can find employment in the future and earn an income, parents do not have that luxury if they exhaust their assetsPremium
While the child can find employment in the future and earn an income, parents do not have that luxury if they exhaust their assets

Many parents are financially supporting their adult children in a meaningful way in the aftermath of the covid-19 pandemic that has resulted in rampant job losses, pay cuts and professional uncertainty.

Take the case of X, whose son had quit his job to start an organic farming business two years ago. The pandemic disrupted the business’s demand, supply and distribution chains, leaving the son struggling to meet his family’s routine expenses. Or the story of Y, whose son could not meet his daughter’s undergraduate fees for a foreign university because of a huge dip in his portfolio value. Lastly, Z, whose lawyer son was suddenly diagnosed with brain cancer, leaving the son struggling to earn an income to meet his instalments.

In all the above situations, the parents stepped forward to bail out their children with financial support. X created a trust fund, which provided the son’s family a monthly income that met their routine expenses. The son was, therefore, able to focus on bringing his business back on track, knowing that his parents were meeting his family’s basic needs. Y offered his son an interest-free loan for three years to pay the undergraduate fees so he would not need to redeem his portfolio at a loss. Z shook off the loan collection leeches by paying down the home loan entirely and securing the home papers for his son.

But parents must wear their safety belts first before helping others. If their assistance towards their children negatively impacts their financial independence or goals, they must desist from offering such support. While the child can find employment in the future and earn an income, parents do not have that luxury if they exhaust their assets, leaving them eventually dependent on their children.

Hence, even if parents offer financial assistance, they must structure a broad framework of such financial support and set limits in terms of money, time or emotional involvement. This framework is crucial to establish expectations, else it may lead to unhealthy dependence or friction on both sides.

Generally, the financial assistance offered can be of four types: income, expense, asset and liability.

Income: Income support comes by way of providing a fixed inflow each month. One of my clients redirected her rental income to her daughter. Other sources of income may be in the form of trusts, dividend from stocks or interest from bonds and deposits, or systematic withdrawal plans (SWPs) from mutual funds.

Expense: Parents can take over a part of the children’s expense, such as equated monthly instalments (EMIs), rent, school fees or routine expenses. It is important to ensure that the expense commitment is fixed and predetermined so that expense spikes do not cause steep outflows on certain months or extend beyond the decided time limit.

Assets: Parents may decide to fund an asset, such as a car or a house, partially or fully. In some instances, parents may find it prudent to gift a property during their lifetimes rather than bequeath it after their death. If parents have the financial wherewithal to transfer wealth during their lifetimes, it may be more beneficial for their children now, than to leave behind a large inheritance when the need is not so dire. In fact, transfer of wealth during the parents’ lifetime offers them immense satisfaction when they see that the money is being put to good use, such as educating a grandchild, buying an asset, or closing a loan. However, such transfers must not materially affect the financial independence or lifestyle of the parent.

Liabilities: Though taking over a liability is not advisable for retirees, parents can choose to pay down a child’s liability, such as a credit card bill for the month, or car and home loans, if their finances are healthy. They may also choose to pay down a loan entirely or partly instead. But parents must refrain from taking on loans as a co-signee, since the responsibility for repaying the loan then shifts to them, at least partially.

Financial advisers play an integral role in deciding whether elders have the wherewithal to support their children. They can project expenses into the future and ensure the existing corpus is able to weather inflation, taxes, market disruptions and unplanned expenses. Such calculations must be arrived at after factoring a very conservative return on assets, or in some instances, even writing off a part of their assets. After leaving an adequate buffer, any remaining surplus can be used to help their children financially. Advisers can also act as an objective third party, highlight the consequences of certain financial decisions on both parties, intervene between the child and parent, and enforce discipline when financial boundaries are crossed.

It is natural for parents to help their children in distress just as children would want to do so for their parents. This support is what binds families together, and strengthens and nurtures relationships. Parents need to walk the fine line between supporting an otherwise hardworking child who has fallen into bad times; and supporting an entitled child and creating an ongoing dependency. If it is the former and you have put on your oxygen mask, go ahead and strap it on for your child too.

Priya Sunder is director and co-founder, PeakAlpha Investments

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Published: 27 Nov 2020, 07:24 AM IST
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