For most of your adult life you’ve planned to leave an inheritance for your children, but recently you haven’t been so sure. What if they don’t use it wisely? Maybe they’ve been successful in their own lives, and don’t need it – should you leave it to a favourite charity instead?

If you’re having second thoughts about whether your money should pass to your children as part of your estate, ask yourself these questions to help figure out why you’re concerned and what your options are.

Why should I leave my kids money? 

There are clear benefits to leaving your money to your children. Maybe an inheritance means they won’t have the financial struggles you did when you were starting out, and they can give your grandchildren and future generations more opportunities. Maybe you feel that including your children in your will can show them you love them. Maybe you simply want to keep your assets in the family.

Why wouldn’t I want to leave them money?

Despite the advantages of including children in your will, you might have mixed emotions when making the decision. You may fear that doing so will destroy their initiative and they won’t work hard. Maybe you worry that they won’t be good stewards because they’re too young or too irresponsible. Or perhaps your children are successful in their own lives, and you feel your money could better benefit others through a charitable donation.

While these are all valid concerns, a financial professional can help you explore available safeguards to allow your children access to funds while limiting their opportunity to turn it into a curse instead of a blessing.

What if I don't leave my money to my children?

If you don’t leave money to your children, where would it go? Without a will, your estate may be disposed of according to the applicable laws of your province. With a will, however, you can leave your money to whomever you like – most of the time.  Depending on your reasons for not including your kids in your will and which province you live in, your kids could have grounds to challenge your wishes in court. That’s just one reason it’s so important to get expert legal advice.

What other choices do I have?

Thankfully, the decision to leave money for your kids isn’t a simple “yes” or “no.” There are a few alternatives to leaving money directly in the hands of your children.

For example, if you want your children to benefit from your money while also protecting them from the risk of mismanaging their finances, consider establishing a testamentary trust, which would come into effect after you die, according to terms set out in your will. A trustee manages assets held within a trust, and may distribute funds based on your criteria, such as when your beneficiaries reach a certain age, educational threshold or other milestone. This is also a handy solution if you’re concerned about your child’s spendthrift ways, or if you have a child whose disability may hinder his or her ability to effectively manage money.

Another option could be to name a child as a beneficiary on your life insurance policy, with the proceeds paid into a testamentary trust managed by a professional.

If you choose to leave your estate to someone or something (such as a favourite charity, educational institution or non-profit) other than your offspring, it’s imperative to record your wishes in a binding legal document – a last will and testament – drawn up by a lawyer so it will hold up in a court challenge.

Decisions about whether to leave money to your kids can have a significant impact on a family’s finances and relationships. Talk to your lawyer, your accountant, or an estate and financial planning expert about your wishes for your estate. These professionals can describe the alternatives, help you explore your options and make recommendations based on your specific situation. They may also have suggestions to guide you through the delicate discussions you might need to have with your children.