I turned 95, I decided I needed to do some serious thinking
about my future. While I still keep up my professional
practice as a marriage and family counselor, and am in
the middle of working on a book, I know I will not live
forever. Just a few months ago, I was in a rehabilitation
center for three weeks and I now need a cane to get around.
Even though I am still very vital, my time is coming;
I'm going to die.
don't want to approach my death like my husband approached
his. He died of Parkinson's Disease, but for years he
told people he had arthritis and wouldn't admit what was
happening to him. It was painful to see this gifted brain
surgeon act as if nothing was wrong even though he no
longer could button his shirt. Towards the end, he didn't
even ask our children to visit because that would have
required admitting his need of them.
is not for me. I'm not going to "pass on" some day; I'm
going to die, and that someday is not all that far away.
The question for me is how to make my death a gift. It
has been a great pleasure in the last few months to talk
about this with my children and think through how to get
my affairs in order. I feel liberated by facing an obvious
and inevitable truth and making the most of it. By mourning
with them now, I am liberating myself to be creative instead
of wasting precious creativity on futile substitutes.
is, for example, great opportunity in what I own. I've
got a large house, some stock from my father, several
investments purchased out of my husband's earnings, and
my own investments. I didn't get my doctorate until I
was 57, but I have earned well over a $100,000 a year
all through my seventies and eighties. What I decide to
do with these assets after my death is a choice with consequences.
Those consequences, for good or ill, are a big part of
how I will live on after my death, my way of continuing
what will it be? My children are all usefully independent
and need little from me. This means I can devote most
of my estate to making a difference in the world. Giving
has just been a part of the air I've breathed ever since
I was a child. My parents were Jewish immigrants from
Lithuania. It was a long time before they became financially
comfortable here. Yet, there was always a blue box in
the kitchen where we saved our coins to buy trees for
is in this spirit that I've set up a charitable fund at
a community foundation and named three of my grandchildren
as fund advisors. Not many decisions have been made yet,
but we have begun talking together about our goals for
the fund, and how much of my estate should be turned over
book is on "graduating from life" creatively, and I'm
trying to practice what I preach. My slogan is "We do
not grow old; we become old by not growing," and stretching
out to others is growing.
- anonymous author
As Best I Can
I lost my wife to a mountain climbing accident, I not
only lost my best friend, but also the child we were in
the process of adopting, and the closeness I had treasured
with my wife's family.
return, I became a millionaire. That is probably why my
wife's siblings turned so cold toward me. I had only been
married to Victoria for a year, and now I had inherited
her share of her deceased parents' fortune and family
heirlooms. Only I, some close friends, and a number of
non-profits received anything; her siblings were not mentioned
at all as they were already well provided for.
Victoria's death, one brother stopped returning my calls
and the other said he believed that ownership of Victoria's
share of her late mother's jewelry was contestable. Both
of their wives wanted the jewelry for their daughters
and didn't believe a widower without children had any
right to it.
things can be so damn corrosive. When we could have been
turning to each other in shared grief, we were wrangling
over assets. I tried to compromise, giving family members
most of the jewelry and willing all of the remainder to
their daughters. I also pledged much of the furniture
and other heirlooms as soon as I was able to part with
them, but said I needed to be true to myself, even if
that meant never being able to part with many items Victoria
and I shared. I was afraid that letter would be the end
of my relationship with her brothers, and there was a
long silence. Yet, I may have over-estimated their hard
feelings. Her closest brother recently wrote me in a spirit
of reconciliation to let me know his family was working
on letting go of needing more of the family possessions.
feels good, but I'm still a 50 year-old, childless, widowed
socialist learning to cope with being rich. My relationship
to wealth was easier when most of our assets were Victoria's.
But, now they are mine. I live in the large house we bought
together as part of our adoption plans, and live off and
support my anti-racism work with the interest from her
principal, which is held in trust for the duration of
my lifetime. I have justified my privilege by committing
my remaining productive years to a social justice education
company I started which holds great promise, and by sharing
my large living room and office meeting room for occasional
community meetings. I also rent three apartments in the
house at below market rates to anti-racism activists whose
work I admire. I have willed most of my estate to continue
the social justice education company as long as it is
successful, and to support groups that Victoria had long
am slowly letting this wealth become mine. When we were
together, Victoria was generous with the money so there
wouldn't be too much inequality in our relationship. Yet,
if I was going to spend over $500 of our joint money I
needed to check with her, and she vetoed many expenditures.
I accepted this as fair. But, now it is up to me to decide,
and I know she would not approve of all of my choices.
She hated what she saw as prestige consumerism and kept
a tight budget on vacations, eating out, and buying things
that would be fun but rarely used. Me? I am planning on
buying a used motor boat, and I added a large atrium to
the house and air conditioned it, something she strongly
is sometimes confusing to go against the wishes of the
woman I still love with what used to be her money, but
this gets easier as I heal.
- anonymous author
My Husband Died
husband was a college professor, but he made a lot of
money consulting with the aerospace industry during the
military spending spree of the Reagan years. Since then,
the money he invested has skyrocketed in value.
first had to face up to this money when Bill died in an
accident six years ago. Before then I was pretty much
in denial about it. We lived the comfortable lifestyle
of a university professor's family, well below our means.
When I quickly reviewed our tax returns each year, I never
really read the bottom lines. Bill managed our investments
and most financial matters, except for minor bookkeeping,
my professional finances, and our mutual decisions about
spending. About a year before he died, he told me that
he wanted more help and input, but said he feared that
if I shared in managing the money, I might give it all
away. I think now that I unconsciously shared this fear.
after he died, I was afraid that the money would all disappear
because of my carelessness or poor decision-making. I
hated the money because it represented the loss of Bill
and my needing to take on an overwhelming responsibility.
I felt angry with him for dying. "This is your job; why
aren't you here taking care of it?" Underneath everything,
was profound sadness; he was suddenly gone after 35 years
together. I was also afraid that I would lose friends
because of the disparity of my newly understood wealth
with the help of groups like Resourceful Women, Ministry
of Money, and the Impact Project, I've learned to cope
with having more money than I had ever dreamed of. I've
often judged my financial shortcomings harshly, but I'm
learning to acknowledge and congratulate myself for the
progress I've made. I knew I was getting more savvy when
I realized that Bill had been too financially conservative
and made some mistakes in how he allocated our investments.
This realization freed me up to start restructuring things.
It has taken me a long time, but I have shaken off the
paralysis of trusting my husband's decisions completely.
Now I trust myself and the advisors I've selected to help
I'm very grateful to him. I hear stories from other widows
about how their husbands left their family's financial
papers in shambles. Not Bill. His files were clearly marked.
The paper work was always put where it belonged and there
were carbon copies of everything. When I pass my financial
papers to my four grown children, I want them to be just
as organized. I'm also more understanding of Bill. I used
to resent the amount of time he spent working on our finances.
Now, I get it. Managing money takes time!
actually excited by the challenge of taking charge of
the money and using it to enhance the quality of my life,
to support my children's and grandchildren's dreams, and
to help make the world a more just and peaceful place.
Bill was right. I like giving money away.
- anonymous author
lost my father when I was fifteen and became a multi-millionaire.
It was horrible having money replace my father, as if
that were somehow a fair trade. My mother, who had divorced
my Dad years before, didn't know how to help me. She just
left me alone, assuming that since I was such a willful,
self-sufficient teenager that I would be fine. Her only
soothing gesture towards me after my father died was to
offer to take me shopping. My father's sister was of little
help either. Angry at being left out of the will, she
actually stole some things from my father's house, lied
about it, and then started badgering me for money.
cope, I put away my feelings of loss and used my anger
to stay strong. I also put off dealing with the money.
During my college years, the investments in my trust earned
over $15,000 per month, but I only used $1,000 a month
for living expenses and turned the rest back over to the
family accountant to manage for me. I wanted my money
out of sight and out of mind.
is, until the Gulf War began in 1991. When the bombing
started, my college classmates and I were glued to CNN
watching the war's progress with horror. We talked constantly
about the meaning of the war and our government's role
in international politics. I realized that the taxes paid
on my trust's earnings were helping to foot the bill for
killing Iraqi civilians. I yearned to do something meaningful
to oppose these atrocities, so I had to start thinking
seriously about my money.
anything about this was a pretty complicated assignment.
The investments and income from my trust were controlled
by a complex labyrinth of unsympathetic trustees. Frustrated,
I consulted with one of the war tax resisters I had met
on campus. I explained my financial situation to him,
the first time I had shared with anyone that I was an
inheritor. Being rich simply wasn't "cool" in the circles
I traveled in. Instead of berating me for being wealthy,
this fellow offered me encouragement. He told me, "Forget
about the money that you can't control. Your task is to
figure out how to handle what you do control." That moment
was the wake-up call for me. I decided to learn all I
could about aligning my money with my values, and preparing
for the day when all the money in trust would come under
charge of my money meant facing the long suppressed feelings
about my father's death. It took many years before I was
ready to focus on the money enough to become an effective
giver and socially responsible investor. During this time,
I used every tool I could: long talks with friends, journal
writing, meditation, seeing a therapist and a wealth counselor,
and taking time to be alone.
back, I could have benefited from more forethought on
my father's part. My Dad never talked with me about his
will. I was probably too young when my father drew it
up, of course, but was I too young to talk about money
when I was 14 or 15? Couldn't he have at least left a
letter of instruction explaining what he was doing and
why, and offering me some advice about managing this money?
especially wish my Dad had left something to every member
of his family so there would have been less bitterness
directed at me after his death. When I wrote my first
will, my lawyer laughed at me because I gave him a list
of over 30 individual beneficiaries (which didn't even
include the foundations and organizations to which I'm
leaving the bulk of my estate). For my friends who already
had money, I arranged to put money in a donor advised
account for them so they could have the fun of giving
it away. I wanted no one left out.
- anonymous author
Ready to Die
never had much choice about facing my mortality. I was
an infantry rifleman in the Korean War and saw guys blown
up in combat. Then, after coming back from the war, I
totaled a car. I walked away unscathed both times, but
death has always been hovering close by, waiting. I even
lost one of my first loves to cancer.
my daughters were little, I wrote my first will. I wanted
to provide for my family and felt a little obsessed about
getting all the details right. I got some good advice
from a smart young attorney who reminded me that when
I was dead, I wouldn't really have any control. She encouraged
me to trust my wife and children to make their own decisions
and not use my will to script everything for them. This
helped me to focus on living well everyday and loving
my family to the best of my ability. That is my most important
gift to them.
having a solid estate plan, which I've updated over the
years as my assets grew, has given me confidence that
my four daughters will be taken care of when I die. However,
it is one thing to have a plan, and another to let your
kids in on it. About six years ago, after much reflection,
and some prodding from my estate planner, I decided it
was finally time to have the "here is what is going to
happen when Daddy dies" discussion with my daughters.
They were in their late 20s and early 30s.
knew I had passed on the good genes and values that my
parents had passed on to me, but I also knew that since
I had become an affluent businessman, they would have
the challenge of dealing with the wealth I would leave
behind. I felt it was my parental responsibility to mentor
them in this new area of development. When they were little,
I made sure to take them to the ballet and symphonies,
stuff I missed out on in my childhood. This seemed like
the same kind of thing to me. I had exposed them to the
cultural side of life, now it was time for me to expose
them to the financial side.
give them the big picture, I invited all of them over
for a 3-day holiday weekend, telling them I wanted to
host a family meeting about my estate planning and how
they would fit into it. Having been a consultant all my
life, I prepared charts and graphs and started putting
on a full dog and pony show presentation for my girls.
One of my daughters blurted out, "Dad, this means you
are going to die!" and then burst into tears. At that
point, all my daughters said they needed some time together
and the four of them went off and talked until two in
breakfast the next day, they were ready to go back and
listen. Having learned something from the day before,
I asked them what they wanted to talk about, and what
questions they had. I listened carefully, answered some
questions, and promised to write memos to them about the
rest. We then went out to play together.
asked for another family meeting three months later. At
that one, we decided that the best way to get them ready
to handle large amounts of money would be to set up a
joint investment account to manage together as a family
investment club. I put in $250,000 and we spent the rest
of the meeting discussing the investment process and how
they could make money work for them.
the end of the first year, we lost money, a valuable lesson
in itself. In all of the years since, we have done well,
split the earnings at the end of the year, and started
over with only my initial investment. Soon they were reading
stock tables, getting advice from financial advisors,
and recommending which stocks to purchase.
introduced a new idea about three years ago--that one
equal share of the earnings be allocated for charitable
donations and that we determine together what groups this
money would support. This took us to a whole new level.
Before then, I had never taken the time to talk to them
about why I contribute both money and time. Now we were
talking about each of our dreams and visions for the world,
and how our financial abundance could help make those
dreams come true.
a couple of years ago, with the stock market continuing
to rise and my assets increasing ever more dramatically,
I gifted them $150,000 each as a "cushion," something
their mother and I never had when we were young. This
gift also served to help them learn to fly solo and manage
a significant chunk of change on their own. Even more
recently, I called another family meeting so I could finally
make a full disclosure of my estate, my distribution plans,
the tax consequences, my personal charitable donations,
and discuss my idea of forming a family foundation. The
discussion was animated and filled with a sense of trust
emotional rewards of this process have been enormous.
We've had regular communication and common tasks to keep
us in touch as well as more casual phone calls, letters,
and visits that have nothing to do with family finances.
Preparing for my death has brought us much closer together.
I know my children will mourn when I die, but they will
live fully and responsibly, and be in close touch with
each other no matter where their lives take them. This
has brought me great peace.
sense of peace was tested recently when I had a prostate
cancer scare. I thought that might be the last punch in
my ticket. It wasn't, but it made me realize I'm ready
to go anytime.
- anonymous author
to Die Broke
For over 40 years, Terry and I have shared the same
ideals about voluntary poverty. We were both influenced
by Dorothy Day, whom we knew through the Catholic Worker,
and people like Jesus, Gandhi, Saint Francis, and Henry
While we raised our kids, we lived a more middle-class
life, with a good-sized house in Amherst, MA, a car, vacations,
and two inheritances in the bank. We lived relatively
simply compared to some of our neighbors though, and our
children sometimes felt deprived.
After the kids were grown, Terry and I moved to a
cabin in the forest in the Berkshires to start a spiritual
retreat center. We hadn't originally intended to live
in such a small cabin with no telephone or electricity,
but it felt right. We have lived here for 15 years.
Now our needs are minimal and we have given away most
of our money to social change groups. When we told our
children of our decision not to pass any money on to them--just
a few special things from the family--they did not appreciate
it. They pointed out the inequity of their children not
having the educational and travel opportunities which
we all enjoyed together because of Joe's and my inheritances.
Our children also worry about our lack of private health
insurance. We are signing a statement that Joe and I take
full responsibility for our health and how we live, but
this does not resolve their worries.
I feel strongly that I don't want tens of thousands
of dollars put into keeping us alive. With me at age 71
and Terry at 81, we imagine growing older may bring infirmity
and sickness, but we don't want to pour money into the
medical system. Real security comes from strength of faith
and spiritual practice and from a sense of centeredness.
We have no significant fears or hesitations about deciding
to give our money away.
Well, almost none. In our efforts to foster justice
in the wider human family, our own family feels hurt.
How can we break the chain of inheritance, and its underlying
social inequity, without causing undue pain at home? I
don't know. We're still struggling with that.
and Terry Haven
from an interview in We Gave Away A Fortune by Anne Slepian
and Christopher Mogil. Postscript: Terry died in 1992,
after refusing surgery that might have prolonged her life.
Joe, after suffering a serious decline due to Parkinson's
Disease, chose to fast to death in 1994.
My Dad, Not My Inheritance
always had the idea that I could afford to be a flake.
I could afford to get thrown out of Harvard and be wild
because one of these days I was going to inherit a lot
of money. Then one day when I was in India,
my spiritual teacher called me in and said, "Your father
has a lot of money... You are not to accept an inheritance."
I was startled. I said, "Okay," while thinking to myself,
"I'll deal with that when the time comes."
the time, I didn't know whether I would honor what my
guru said or not. I thought that coming from a family
of lawyers I'd figure out a way around it. Yet, on a spiritual
level the mandate felt right to me. I knew that my father
saw everybody as wanting his money, and I didn't want
to be one of those people. It would mean that he wouldn't
trust my love. Ultimately, I set up a special account
for any future inheritance with the intention that every
penny would be given away.
I shifted my intention towards my inheritance the effect
was profound. My lifestyle was no longer impeded by my
father continuing to live. I hadn't been aware that I
was wanting his money and waiting for him to die. Now
that I stopped doing so, suddenly I was helping him remarry.
He and his wife and I became close buddies. I just wanted
him to be happy; he had worked hard, I wanted him to enjoy
spending his money. While I never spoke to him about my
intention, once I stopped wanting his money, I was freed
up to love him--and he recognized that.
- anonymous author
from an interview in
We Gave Away A Fortune
Anne Slepian and Christopher Mogil. Available from The
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