Some advisors, such as Franklin of Franklin Wealth Management, believe that when parents make substantial cash outlays to help their kids, they should expect to be paid back. He advises his clients to draw up a contract and charge interest. "As a parent, you have to feel proud when they pay your money back, knowing they are on the path to financial independence," he said.
By Internal Revenue Service rules, you must charge a minimum interest rate. In March the Applicable Federal Rate was 0.40 percent for loans up to three years, 1.47 percent for loans of three to nine years and 2.19 percent for loans longer than that. "If they don't pay you back, it's now a gift," Franklin said.
Gifts that are more than $14,000 (or $28,000 per couple) are taxable, though "most people are not even aware about the gift tax," said Geraghty. If tax is not paid, then larger gifts will need to be accounted for and taxed at that time.
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Some parents go one step further and deduct gifts from their children's inheritance. "I had a client who said that when she passes, her son is not going to get anything, that it was going to the other children because he had already gotten so much from her in the form of handouts," said Franklin.
Of course, financial dependence is a two-way street and the result of a lifetime of financial lessons never learned. The best defense against dependent children, advisors say, is increasing financial responsibility as children grow. And letting them fail when they're young is a lesson that will stay with them long after their parents are no longer there to bail them out.
—By Ilana Polyak, special to CNBC.com