Dear Quentin,

I am in my early 40s. I am a single parent of an adult son. I have worked my butt off to be able to provide my son with a good upbringing. I earn good money and have excellent benefits through my employer. 

My savings are not significant at this point, as I am learning how to manage my money better. Regardless, if I were to pass away today, the amount of money in question is not insignificant.

My son is very self-centered, more so than the average person his age. He has yet to get a job, despite being more than capable. This is entirely due to his not putting sufficient effort into finding a job. He has proclaimed that he has “lazyitis”. 

One summer, when I suggested he increase his efforts to find a job when he wasn’t getting calls for interviews, he took it as a personal attack, as if I said he wasn’t doing anything. He took a year off after high school and has been upgrading his marks for the last two years. 

‘I will no longer entertain the idea of him living with me, because my mental health suffers when we live together.’

He talks vaguely about maybe entering post-secondary education, but has not applied for anything. I have tried to help facilitate his job search by forwarding opportunities that I hear about to him. As he is an adult, I try to keep the nagging to a minimum. 

He is not living at home because he does not follow the living agreement that he agreed to when he moved in last. I will no longer entertain the idea of him living with me, because my mental health suffers when we live together. 

My son is currently living with a relative who has been an enabler for him in the past. I struggle with feeling used in our relationship, as he is not grateful for what he gets. He rarely reaches out to me aside from the “expected” occasions (birthday, Mother’s Day), though we usually get along in each other’s company, as long as I don’t expect him to do things he doesn’t want to do.

I do not currently have a will. Without a will, everything will go to my son. At this time, this is not what I want. I do not want all of my hard work and efforts to go toward supporting my son when he has done so little to support himself. 

I have no problem with leaving him my estate if he’s actually taking actions to support himself. I just don’t want to reinforce the lifestyle he is currently living and his “lazyitis.” How can I communicate this in a will, or otherwise make my wishes known? 

Frustrated Parent

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear Frustrated,

It’s your life and your money, and you are free to do whatever you want with it. You are correct: If you die without a will, your son is your legal and sole beneficiary and would inherit everything. If you wish to help incentivize him, you can certainly give it a shot through a trust. It may help him, but I am skeptical that you will ever be able to change him. 

You could set up a trust to provide an income with conditions like going to college or getting a job. As Angie O’Leary, the head of wealth planning at RBC Wealth Management, says: “Incentive trusts, in particular, can serve as solid compromises, as they are designed to encourage or discourage certain behaviors by using distributions of trust income or principal as an incentive.” 

“In practical terms, this could mean that an adult beneficiary would collect distributions after meeting specified requirements, such as attending a treatment program or complying with routine drug tests,” she adds. “On the other hand, he or she might not receive distributions after failing to attend regular substance abuse counseling sessions.”

These kinds of vehicles can help prevent an adult child with behavioral problems from spending their inheritance recklessly, or falling foul to schemes or bad influences from other people in their life. It is an alternative to completely cutting your son out of your will.

If he knew in advance that he would need to reach certain milestones to receive a cash sum, he may be more likely to get his act together.

There are rules for such trusts, however. You cannot obviously suggest the beneficiary do anything that might violate state or federal law, and your conditions must be specific and avoid any ambiguity. For example, your son could likely challenge a condition that he marry a woman if, for example, he were gay, or that he marry a person of a certain religion. 

The good news is that you are young, and if your son is waiting for his inheritance and planning on living the life of Reilly before then, he will hopefully have a long wait.

In the meantime, it may also be a good idea to let him know that you would like to leave a provision for him in your will so he could use money for an education, overseen by a trustee. If he knew in advance that he would need to reach certain milestones to receive a cash sum, he may be more likely to get his act together sooner rather than later.

I would not hold out too much hope for that, however. Given what you say, we should be realistic about his ability or willingness to change. It may be that no amount of carrot or stick will force him to do that.

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The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

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