Dear Helaine: I'm a fairly prosperous woman in my early seventies. I'm making my will, and I don't know what to do about my 35-year-old son. He belongs to a tiny religious group I consider to be a cult -- the Dear Leader can do no wrong. I'm pretty sure he will turn over most of his inheritance to this group. He has done that with other money presents that I gave him (before I knew what he was doing with them). I worry about what will happen to him when he is no longer young(ish) and happy to live at a subsistence level. Is there a way I can provide for him and not the head of this group? I'm fairly tolerant, but these people are weird. -- Not a Cult Mom
Dear Not a Cult Mom: One of the hardest things about parenting is learning that our children are not us. They grow up, they do things you know are not in their best interests, and yet you are powerless to change things. In this case, I imagine your fears are twofold. First, you want to ensure your son will be protected in the event he (hopefully) changes his mind about this cultlike group in the future, or even if he does not. Second, you don’t want any of your money to land in their greedy grasp.
Here’s the good news. It is possible to protect your son, and at least limit the amount of money that goes to this religious organization. How so? You could put the money in a trust. You could then leave instructions for how the money is distributed. It can be monthly, annually, biannually -- you name it. This way, your son can’t give away the entire sum. His generosity would be limited to the amount of the distribution. (If you are wondering if you can restrict him from giving any of the money to the organization, the answer is likely no. If challenged, courts would likely rule it’s a violation of his constitutionally protected rights.)
I suggest consulting with an estate lawyer, who can explain how different types of trusts work, and guide you through this process if you decide to move forward, which will include selecting a trustee to manage the funds.
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