By Nola Redd
Two articles published in USA Today several months ago have inspired me to think a great deal about death and inheritances.The first article noted the generosity of Howard Hughes in donating the majority of his estate to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation after his death. It went on to discuss the growing trend of the rich to leave much of their estate to charity, rather than pass it on to their children. Most of the children in the article – possibly all of them – discussed the trend in a positive manner; I don’t recall anyone other than the author bemoaning their loss. The second article focused on one family, whose patriarch was dying of cancer and using most of his savings on medical bills. Although his children repeatedly stated that they would rather have hope for their father than an inheritance (one significantly smaller than the Hughes children would someday receive), the father worried about what he would leave to his children.
I found the tone of both articles disturbing. The implication was that parents should build up their fortunes primarily for their children. The entitlement factor that pervades America has now become funeral fodder. I wonder about the interviews you would never get – the decision to put an elderly parent in a state-funded home to preserve the inheritance for their grown children. I wonder why we are beginning to believe that we are entitled to something that someone else has worked hard for. If I were to visit Mr. Hughes and inform him that I deserve his money simply because I am alive, he and most of the rest of the nation would laugh at my daring and dismiss me. Why, then, is it deemed acceptable for us to believe we are entitled to what our parents have worked for?
As a mother of small children – all five and under – I obviously want to be sure that my children will be financially provided for should something happen to my husband and myself. But I also think the most valuable thing I can leave my children is a desire to work hard. Studies have shown that the children of the rich often wind up wasting their lives and their money, squandering it quickly. It is the grandchildren of the rich, sometimes the great-grandchildren, who seek to rebuild the fortune they once had. Granted, this isn’t always the case, and money isn’t always the problem.
However, once my children have grown up and made their way in the world, I don’t think they are automatically entitled to receive my money. Personally, I plan to enjoy my retirement years, and I can only pray that my husband and I will raise them in such a way that they will always put our health before their financial growth. Heck, I hope to raise them in such a way that they can support me in my retirement – but I don’t expect it. Leaving an inheritance for my children would be nice, but is not my primary goal in life.
I recently discussed my father’s intentions following the death of my step-mother – questions about where he would want to be buried and the like. In the process, he mentioned that he owned a life insurance policy for $100,000 so that my sister and I would receive an ‘inheritance’. Since he is a single man on a tight budget, with no one dependent on him for income, I urged him to take the money he was paying into the policy and spend it on himself or some of the debts he was struggling to pay off. He refused, insisting he wanted to leave us with something. Again, I told him that I would rather have him happy now than have some money later.
At the same time, as my husband and I calculated our insurance needs, I tried to plan how much three children would need to support themselves until they were 18. Of course, it would be nice to pay for college….and on the list went. I tried to decide about trusts with annual payouts and interest rates, and when to give them the principle of the balance (I decided closer to 30 would be nice…or maybe 50…). So I guess, ranting aside, I’m not immune to wanting to leave a nice inheritance for my children.
All of that said, I am opposed to children who think they deserve what their parents have earned, whether it is a fortune or a small business, or both. I feel like one of the most important things we can teach our children is to work hard and save hard. And I think that we should make sure as we plan our estates that our children benefit, not just financially but in all aspects of their lives.
However, if Mr. Hughes feels the urge to leave some of his fortune to me, I guess I would take it.
Freelance writer Nola Redd stores several of her fiction and nonfiction pieces in her Writing.com portfolio. This article has been submitted in affiliation with http://www.Facsimile.Com/ which is a site for Fax Machines.
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