How Much Should You Leave For Your Family/Children?

177700114A sobering issue we all need to face is to plan for our certain death. Ugh. Obviously this not a one of those cheery Strumings about my beloved Yankees. Our demise is one that we all hope will be decades away, but as the great philosopher Paulie Walnuts said in a Sopranos episode, “Who Among Us Knows What the Future Holds?”

The question of how much to leave for family/children is a loaded question. Obviously it depends on one’s wealth. Even the super wealthy have planning issues, in fact estate issues can be complex. If you’re leaving less than $5 Million, or $10 Million if you’re a couple, then you’re clear of federal estate taxes.

Estate taxes aside, the answer to the question of how much one should leave to their family/children might be anything from “A Lot” to “Nothing, let them earn their own fortune” or more likely, “I wish I could leave them something, but I need money to live now”. There’s really no right answer.

And indeed while there is no universal answer; I do have an opinion and some guiding principles that could be helpful. Accept (or reject) them as you see fit.

1. Take care of yourself first

This is kind of obvious and is not a selfish thought. The objective should be, to the degree that you are able, never become a financial burden to others. Do the analysis of how long your money will truly last based on predictive models and life expectancy. And be sure to make reasonable assumptions in this process (particularly about increased health care costs in retirement—see below). Just the process alone of thinking through your assumptions is invaluable.

2. Provide for your own medical care

Part of taking care of yourself first is funding your own medical care. One of the more expensive items in your long term planning is the possibility of extended nursing care. Medicare does not fund this. Care is expensive. The byproduct of longer life span is that a greater % of people will need care at some point. Fund this either through long term care insurance purchased in your 50s and 60s or be sure to allocate sufficient funds to pay in your assumptions.

3. Consider the ability of your children to provide for themselves in your absence

Are your children fully able to provide for themselves? Do any of your children have special needs or requirements? Obviously their needs will dictate how much you might leave.

4. Your own values

There are those who feel that they worked hard and deserve to spend it every penny. Assuming your wealth wasn’t handed to you by others, you have every right to spend as much of your wealth as you’d like. If you had specific goal and dream, go for it.

5. Your legacy

Your children (and their children) and close family may be the only ones who really care about you when you’re gone. If you can live your “golden years” comfortably, why not leave them with dollars to help them live more comfortably?

6. Philanthropy

Leaving to a worthy cause is admirable, particularly for those with the means to do so. But I’d err on the side of taking care of family first, and charity second.

7. If you have grandchildren, consider helping fund their education, if possible

Education is very expensive. We all know that. A 529 account for grandchildren is a mitzvah. It may not be as fully appreciated by your children than dollars left directly for them, but it’ll ease their financial burden and the cost burden for the grandchildren as well.

8. Most important, don’t make your plans a secret

Communicate during your lifetime what your intentions are. And for god sake, have a will. Once you’re gone, your unwritten intentions mean nothing.

Again there are no right or wrong answers to the vexing question of how much to leave to children or family. One would hope any dollars left to children/family would be appreciated, and not “expected”. In the end, be guided by 3 principles:

Be fair.
Be reasonable.
Be wise.

More Strumings


  1. Rich Riley says:


    Truly outstanding advice. The guidelines are perfect to help think through what is always a difficult decision. Thanks!!

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