The King Lear Complex

King Lear is a fictional king of ancient times.  William Shakespeare wrote one of his darkest plays about this character.

The King was a good man.  He was getting up in years.  He had three daughters (same as me).

He decided that he wanted to retire.  The plan was to split his kingdom into three equal shares, and for him to travel from one castle to another (staying with his daughters).  He would keep a handful of his favorite knights with him.

When he explained his plan to his daughters, his youngest and best child reacted with astonishment and disgust.  This annoyed the King who abruptly cut her out of his plan and divided the kingdom between the two other children.

Predictably, the two greedy daughters soon tired of the King and his rowdy knights, and he was put out in the forest with nothing.  His pride was crushed.  Ultimately the good daughter came back and saved the kingdom, but died in the process, which in turn caused the King to die of heartbreak. (Sorry if I ruined the ending.)

In my practice I see King Lear wannabes all the time.  Older clients who think it might be a good idea to re-title all their assets into the names of their children.  They have all sorts of reasons for believing this makes sense.  I tell them about King Lear and some of the lessons his story offers for today’s elders.  These include:

Children who would endorse such a plan may not be the kind of kids you can trust.

Understandings that are not legally enforceable predictably go south.

What you have accumulated is what you need to provide for your own quality of life as you age.  Give it away at your own peril.

Sometimes the advice takes, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes I am hired by the good child who was cut out because they stood in the way of their parent’s and their folly.