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The Apostle Paul described balanced responsibilities of children to honor their parents and parents to behave reasonably toward their children this way:
“As for children, obey your parents in the Lord, because it is right. The commandment Honor your father and mother is the first one with a promise attached: so that things will go well for you, and you will live for a long time in the land. As for parents, don’t provoke your children to anger, but raise them with discipline and instruction about the Lord.” Ephesians 6:1-4 Common English Bible (CEB).
In this article, we explain why we believe parents should not abuse their children’s respect by demanding unreasonable promises from the children about future actions.
Promises Not to Sell Family Farmland
Few dedicated farmers want to sell farmland. A naïve farmer might think that his children would never sell farmland, but divorce, health crises, or the loss of employment can force even the most faithful children to sell land. This problem becomes even more likely as shared real estate ownership passes on to younger generations.
We have heard many deathbed stories of farmers demanding that their children promise never to sell farmland. All too often, however, the children experience shame and guilt when they face legal barriers that prevent them from keeping those promises.
Indiana law has empowered co-owners of real estate to file partition lawsuits to compel subdivision or sale of the real estate for more than a century. Revisions of the Indiana partition statutes in 2012 shortened the timeline for a partition lawsuit so that a real estate co-owner could force the real estate to be sold at public auction against the wishes of the other co-owners within 4 to 5 months after filing the lawsuit.
A farmer that wants to keep farmland in the family should make an estate plan that accomplishes that goal. A skillful estate planning attorney can set up a limited liability company (LLC) and right an operating agreement that will enable the family to retain family farmland for future generations and prevent creditors from forcing farm sales or family members from suing each other in partition lawsuits.
Promises Not to Put People in Nursing Homes
Long-term health care is expensive, but some people protect themselves from that cost by purchasing long-term care insurance or making other long-term care financial arrangements. People that do not plan for long-term health care expenses need to prepare themselves for the possibility that they will need nursing home care. Unfortunately, some people fantasize irrationally that family members can take care of them at home and avoid nursing home care.
Today’s economic pressures require many households to earn dual incomes through employment outside the home. Fully employed couples usually find it almost impossible to care for ailing family members at home, because they cannot take time off from work to provide care.
Children often feel grief and guilt when their parents’ failing health requires nursing home care. If a parent demands that children promise not to place the parent in nursing home care, the children experience even more pain when they realize that they cannot keep their cruel anti-nursing home promises. Tragically, those painful emotions often divide families and ruin sibling relationships.
Respect Is a Two-Way Street
It is a parent’s responsibility to guide his or her young children, but adult children must control their own behavior. Parents behave disrespectfully toward their children when their own financial problems or failure to plan responsibly turn their goals into unattainable fantasies, but they demand that their children promise to fulfill those fantasies. Children should honor their parents, but parents must not abuse that honor by demanding unreasonable promises that create unbearable burdens for the children.
Jeff R. Hawkins and Jennifer J. Hawkins are Trust & Estate Specialty Board Certified Indiana Trust & Estate Lawyers and active members of the Indiana State Bar Association and National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Both lawyers are admitted to practice law in Indiana, and Jeff Hawkins is admitted to practice law in Illinois. Jeff is also a registered civil mediator, a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the Indiana Bar Foundation; a member of the Illinois State Bar Association and the Indiana Association of Mediators; and he was the 2014-15 President of the Indiana State Bar Association.
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