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"A Different View on Inheritances" by Julie Jason

Originally published: April 14, 2023 (distributed by Andrews McMeel Syndication)

Remember "Robert," a reader who said that parents should tell their children NOT to expect an inheritance? (If you missed that column, "Inheritances For Your Children?" write to me at readers@juliejason.com, and I'll send you a copy.) 

Robert, who is in his 80s and well-off, felt that once you paid for education, parental obligations were over, including any obligation to leave the kids an inheritance. 

He said it's best to "communicate that there will be NO monetary inheritance -- rather, charities have already been chosen."

That point of view drew a "candid response" from "Alex." 

"One of the most important issues in dealing with intergenerational wealth in this context is continuous open communication throughout the lifetime of a family! 

"Rule No. 1: Pick good parents. It might sound trite, but my late successful parents -- grandchildren and children of Irish immigrants -- were transparent in their thinking.

"Rule No. 2: Wealth encompasses financial/intellectual/social/human (F.I.S.H.) capital, and [Generation 1, Generation 2, Generation 3], etc., should strive to invest (and even maximize) all.

"Rule No. 3: Consistent parenting/messaging should lead to clear understandings. My late parents taught 'their children' about smart work, self-sacrifice and personal responsibility early on ... and I/my brother/two sisters have been extremely well-educated (multiple undergrad/grad degrees) and have been personally/professionally successful in the fields of investments/philanthropy/medicine/art.

"Our generous inheritances over time have enabled us to become career-driven achievers personifying the adage 'wealth with responsibility'!"

Thank you, Alex, for your well-stated thoughts. 

The divergence in views between Alex and Robert is not unusual, of course. 

From my perspective, with 30-plus years of experience as investment counsel to the high-net-worth, no two families are exactly alike. And, while this may seem simplistic, I'm guessing that the differences are likely a reflection of how we were raised, our heritage and if we adopted the family culture or revolted against it. 

In the end, you would probably agree that inheritances can benefit children who are better prepared to "do right and do good" when they inherit. 

Whether that happens comes back to how family values were transmitted to the children. While many families find the subject of money to be taboo, there are ways to communicate with children indirectly through example. For instance, a discussion of an article that addresses inflation can be the start of a conversation that teaches the value and wise use of money. 

How to handle inheritances is not a simple topic. They can be nuanced based on factors such as family history, philosophy, even religion. They raise the issue of personal responsibility and personal gain and, in some families, fairness, as when one child is disinherited and another is not. 

This whole discussion brings me back to how children learn about basic money decisions, how to be knowledgeable and how to be responsible. 

Parents need to be very much aware that they are role-modeling their values and beliefs for children from a very young age. There is no doubt that the kids are watching you and learning from you, even when you don't realize you are being observed. 

Where does that leave people who are in a position to leave an inheritance? My view is that decisions will be made based on family culture -- as all decisions, big and small, are made. 

On another note, since COVID put a stop to my in-person presentations, I've just started holding 30-minute virtual presentations on targeted financial literacy subjects. If you have any interest in receiving invitations, please email me at readers@juliejason.com. 

To read Julie Jason's books, go to: https://juliejason.com/author/julies-books.