father and young son painting
We all want to give our children a helping hand and make sure our kind decisions are protective ones too.

How can you give money to the kids and keep them safe?

One of the questions we’re often asked is about how to best help family and friends with money? Parents often talk about wanting to be part of the solution but at the same time not becoming part of the problem.

Read in this article

When it comes to money; lending it, gifting it and protecting it, having an eye for detail is key to making it work and keeping all the parties safe.

Helping the kids out with money – it can’t be that bad, can it?

Many families want to help their children with a deposit for a home, perhaps money to start a business and even grandparents helping fund the education of the grandkids.

But how to do you give financial support to someone while making sure you don’t damage them, or yourself in the process? How do you make kind decisions today that can’t be used against them tomorrow?

Put a bigger thinker into your financial situation

The answer may actually be to make a formal loan agreement that all parties sign so you can protect them from risks that might not be visible yet?

Consider making a written legal loan agreement when loaning money to your children.

  • Never ‘give’ your children money
  • Always ‘lend’ them money ‘payable on demand’
  • Never rely on a verbal agreement
  • Get it back if something goes wrong

The most common risk for gifted money is when the Family Law Court gets involved.

Gifts, loans and inheritances – and the problems they can inadvertently cause

Family law

If the child you gave money to goes through a Family Law Court separation, all matrimonial assets are up for assessment and division. If you’re not listed as a creditor, your gift is simply absorbed into the general matrimonial pool and divided as the court deems fit. More likely than not, you might not agree with the court's decision.

Blending Families

People in new relationships where there are children from past relationships or partners from past relationships have additional risks when it comes to protecting and dividing assets too.

When inheriting money is a bad thing

One of the very real risks of taking a DIY approach to your estate planning is you simply don’t know the questions to ask and the issues to be aware of. You can’t predict the state of the relationships or financial situation in the future.

High-risk jobs

A typical example is when the recipient of an inheritance is a self-employed business owner or in a high-risk job such as an accountant, engineer or medical professional. These occupations are known for high rates of litigation so to suddenly receive an inheritance at the worst possible time, can mean it goes to the creditors first.

Elderly or additional needs individuals

Elderly people or those with additional needs, those where English is a second language or those where there is a risk of relational dependency imbalance, are all at a heightened risk. This is why most people specify an age of majority in their wills to ensure any children do not inherit wealth before an age of responsibility. The government's regulator ASIC has information on elder abuse here.

So what’s a family to do?

One of my professional legal colleague puts it bluntly listing his 6 top reasons why you should always use a loan agreement over a formal gift.

“There is nothing wrong with helping our children financially but protect the money in case the children:

  • Divorce
  • Go bankrupt
  • Suffer from drug addiction
  • Suffer a mental condition
  • Stop loving you
  • You run out of money yourself, in your old age"

What are the tax issues?

If you structure the agreement properly, there doesn't have to be any. The interest rate for the loan if ‘as advised by the Lender’ means while the interest rate is zero you have no income tax issues. There is less money for the Family Court to give to your ex-in-law.

Dividing inheritances now, not later

Many families find they financially help their children at different times with different amounts according to need. A single adult child might receive greater assistance with a home deposit early in life while their sibling in a high paying job didn’t need the same level of assistance.

If you benefit one child over another then it can be adjusted automatically at the time of your death. Say you lend one child $500k and the other child $300k then that is adjusted at your death. This is made possible by written loan agreements.

Where to begin your conversation when making loans to children

Start your conversation here;

  1. Talk with all your children together about any family loans
  2. Never gift children money – only loan them money (this protects both you and them)
  3. Never rely on home-made loans or IOUs – use a legally prepared Loan Agreement

Case Study: Where a loan agreement would have been a real gift.
Dotty is an elderly lady who is renting in her retirement. Her grandson suggested that if she would help with the deposit for a new house, she could come and live with him and his new wife.

  • Advice to Dotty was she should make a written loan agreement between herself and her grandson, just in case something went wrong later that wasn’t apparent now.

Life doesn't always work out the way we hoped

Nine months later her grandson's wife moved out with someone else and contacted lawyers to begin divorce and financial separation proceedings. The house was eventually sold at a fire sale price with a loss of over $100,000 including the stamp duty and Dotty’s ‘gifted deposit’

  • Because there was no written loan agreement relating to Dotty’s funds used to supply the deposit for the original purchase, the Family Law Court deemed it a gift to the couple and it was just part of the assets to be divided by the court.

Dotty is now back in the rental market living alone with no savings or emergency funds to call upon if needed.

How could this have been different?

If Dotty signed a legally prepared loan agreement, she could have been recognised as a debtor in the family law court proceedings and could have recalled the ‘gifted funds’ removing them for being distributed as part of the formal separation agreement.

Get it right first time

When it comes to money and relationships, nobody can tell what’s over the horizon. By taking a practical approach to lending money to family and friends, you can also take a protective approach.

If life doesn’t turn out the way we hoped, you and your loved ones are in the best position to start again, wiser and not poorer.

author pic drew browneDrew Browne is a specialty Financial Risk Advisor working with Small Business Owners & their Families, Dual Income Professional Couples, and diverse families. He's an award-winning writer, speaker, financial adviser and business strategy mentor. His business Sapience Financial Group is committed to using business solutions for good in the community. In 2015 he was certified as a B Corp., and in 2017 was recognised in the inaugural Australian National Businesses of Tomorrow Awards. Today he advises Small Business Owners and their families, on how to protect themselves, from their businesses.  He writes for successful Small Business Owners and Industry publications. You can read his Modern Small Business Leadership Blog here. You can connect with him on LinkedIn Any information provided is general advice only and we have not considered your personal circumstances. Before making any decision on the basis of this advice you should consider if the advice is appropriate for you based on your particular circumstance.

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