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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What Should I Share With My Kids - and When?

They grow up too fast

When my two youngest children were little, I took them to the bank for an adventure.  We went to check out what was in the family safe deposit box.

Bank vaults are impressive, especially to a pre-schooler and a first grader.  The outside door is massive, with all these neat gears and two-inch-thick pins.  Inside, the rows of neatly arranged boxes, with their two keyholes and heavy metal doors go from ceiling to floor, and seem to stretch to the horizon.  And so, as the kids watched with wide eyes, the bank clerk and I took out the family safe deposit box.  The kids and I carried it to the quiet, completely uncluttered room, and we locked the door behind us.  Then, we opened the box like it was a pirate's treasure chest.

What We Found


There were a few gold coins and some silver dollars.  The kids thought that was great but weren't impressed with the amount.  I think they had visions of Scrooge McDuck's stash.  There was something else in there, however, that grabbed their attention.

As I was taking out the papers, they asked me what each one was.  There were marriage and birth certificates, house mortgage documents and some work-related items that needed to be kept safe.  One thick set of documents, bound up in a rubber band, was their older sister's adoption papers.  When I explained what it was, two little jaws dropped.  Eyes popped wide and then narrowed to slits.  I could tell they were trying to process this new information.  It had never come up before, but they had to know sometime, and this seemed like as good a time as any.  They were old enough to understand, not too old that they'd resent having the information withheld since they were born, and had enough patience to listen to my wife and me give the full story later that night at dinner.

And Today


The kids are grown now.  They love each other and have the type of relationship that would make any parent happy.  Because my son lives a two hour plane ride away, we really treasure the times when we can all be together.  We are, like just about every family I know, reluctant to talk about certain important issues when all we want to do is simply enjoy our time together.  Nothing like talking about your funeral plans to lighten up a party - Right?

But this is important stuff and I've been around long enough to know that sometimes you don't have a chance to let everybody know where everything is. And the kids are very busy with their own lives, so even if I gave them copies of my wife's and my wills, powers of attorney, and passwords for our bank accounts and digital assets, they wouldn't appreciate the burden of having to safeguard that information.  Besides, they don't need all this information now.  They just need to know that my wife and I have done something about it.  And they need to know where to find it.

So, I put images of all the documents, along with the locations of the paper originals in my SafelyFiled account.  The kids have access to certain documents, and they each have their own SafelyFiled account under our family plan.  We don't make a big deal out of this. But I know this important stuff is taken care of.  The kids will look up the important information and documents when they need to. 

Taking Charge


Sharing important information with your kids depends on the age and readiness of your child.  Sharing a will with a 12 year-old might result in a nightmare.  Not sharing a will with your 60 year-old daughter might cause a different type of nightmare.  If you have grown children who are struggling financially, sharing any financial information, especially if it's mentioned in a will, might cause a rift.  So be careful.

If you can avoid it, don't let circumstances, like a serious illness, dictate when the information is shared.  Do what you can beforehand.  Carefully and deliberately.  Consciously look for the right time.  Just try not to forget about it.

You know your kids.  Use your judgment.

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