Psychological Issues of Bequests
Trusts & Estate’s Magazine
Stanley H. Teitelbaum & Martin M. Shenkman
In crafting an estate plan, many clients struggle with sleepless nights caused by wrenching emotional issues pertaining to their relationships with their children, their value systems, their personality issues and the effect of their own personal experience with gifts and inheritances. The history of the client’s own relationship with money and the client’s personal beliefs about money, what psychologists refer to as “money scripts”
shape the way clients consider choices, decisions and consequences related to giving or bequeathing money to children.
Estate-planning practitioners need to understand the prominent themes that generate emotional angst for parents (and other benefactors) when they’re navigating such questions as who, when, why and how much to leave to intended heirs. Many clients experience emotional pain and react with the defense mechanism of avoidance when dealing with these issues. The resistance to sorting through their concerns is partially rooted in a fear of the fuller acknowledgement of their own mortality, which engenders a significant upsurge of anxiety. These issues are complicated and not easily
resolved Moving forward on bequest decisions frequently involves a certain amount of uncertainty regarding these decisions, and the inclination becomes to put the process on hold. The active choice of dealing with the process, albeit an uncomfortable path, is superseded in these cases by the passive choice of avoidance and the familiar rationalization of “I will get back to this later.”
Resistance is a common scenario, and it behooves the estate-planning practitioner to work with the client in a way that empathizes and normalizes the conflict and difficulty in finalizing the process and maintains ongoing supportive contact.
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