Participants: Katherine, Deb, Doug, John.
are comments from four
More than Money
responding to provocative quotes on the subject of passing
money along by inheritance. The first quote stimulating
discussion is from Leon Botstein, president of Bard
said in part,
money only undercuts the young people's learning that
they can rely on themselves. Inheritance keeps people
from living life at its fullest. Wealth without purpose
is like sweet poison in nature - alluring but deadly.
It is a tribute to
that there are substantial estate taxes. However, since
the taxes aren't greater, I think people with wealth should
voluntarily give it away."
37, a fourth-generation heir from the Midwest,
mother of two, is a researcher on inheritance. "I disagree
with Botstein. While many heirs I interviewed struggle
with wealth issues, others are blessed enough to grow
up with attentive, nurturing, and socially responsible
parents. For them, inheriting wealth is much more gift
concurs with Katherine, "I received waves of inheritance
at age 21, 28 and 30, with more coming next year when
I turn 35. While money allowed me to wallow around a lot
longer than my university colleagues who had to go out
there and swim or drown, I would never trade the years
of inner development that the money allowed me. I think
that when there is a family culture that provides kids
a compass to find deeper meaning, inheritance can be healthy."
43, who came into a substantial inheritance in his mid
30's, experienced his inheritance as a mixed blessing:
"At first, it turned my world upside down. I had been
successfully self-employed for years, but after the inheritance
I began to get soft and make weak business decisions.
On the other hand, because I was raised insulated by wealth,
I always felt nothing could harm me. I have always been
a risk taker. The inheritance enabled me to expand on
this and think creatively in all facets of my life."
introduces himself saying, "I have only tasted what Botstein
calls the "sweet poison" of my legacy, not yet grasping
the cup in my own hands to quaff it to its lees. A trust
fund exists in my name, providing income for my surviving
parent and limited support for me, but I have yet to come
into this patrimony."
criticizes Botstein's assumptions, pointing out that gaining
a place through assignment or inheritance--"ascription"--is
really no different than achieving through one's talents
or natural abilities, since these are also primarily acquired
by certain "unearned" hereditary or environmental influences.
"In short, the 'self' that Botstein commends to us is
just as much a creature of luck and circumstance as any
inheritor's patrimony." John reacts sharply to Botstein's
contention that wealth without purpose, is like sweet
poison: "This is not unique to wealth! Any gift--superior
intellect, beauty, talent, charisma--that is used heedless
of purpose is ultimately destructive to its possessor."
more often agreed with the sentiments of John Levy, a
consultant and author on wealth issues,
money at age 30 was one of the best things that ever happened
to me. I believe most of the 'problems' of inheritance
are avoidable with good parenting. My inclination is to
pass on to kids more money rather than less. Some business
people leave only token amounts because they want their
children to make it on their own, but that implies the
only thing worth doing in life is making money. If you
leave them enough to live on, they are freed to do other
things with their lives."
observes, "Look at the age at which John inherited old
enough to have some clue about who he was. I'm a firm
believer in distributing trusts at the earliest in the
late twenties, or even better, early to mid-thirties,
with parental access to funds for their kids for schooling
and other expanding experiences. But don't dump a trust
fund on a kid who doesn't even have a credit card yet!"
agrees with the value of conscious parenting and of leaving
a certain amount of inheritance, but has chosen not to
make his kids wealthy: "I grew up in an affluent suburb
in New Jersey. We had a six bedroom house, maids, six
t.v.'s, thirteen telephones and one ice maker. I didn't
want to pass the excess that I grew up with onto my kids.
Our will leaves $60,000 (adjusted for inflation since
1988) to each of our three children. They'll get a third
of it at a time when they turn 18, 22, and 26. We chose
an amount that we feel will help them set material anchors
early in their adult lives, without overwhelming who they
might grow into. We are letting them know how much we
are leaving and why, so they won't falsely expect any
big windfall. Our kids are now age 9, 13, and 16. What
we want most for them is that each, independent of money,
will have a strong sense of self worth and the financial
and practical skills to take care of themselves.
my family growing up, we didn't talk about money at all.
I don't want my kids to be compulsive about it, but we
do encourage them to discuss money and feed their natural
curiosity about it. We teach them about saving, investing
and giving, and make sure they experience earning their
own way as a normal part of life. We try to make money
interesting and fun, and keep it all in perspective."
last author's quote is from Chuck Collins, director of
United for a Fair Economy in Boston and an inheritor himself.
choice to pass on substantial wealth to one's children
is a vote for individual security over collective security.
It essentially says, 'I do not believe my child will flourish
in our society without special privileges.' Each time
we choose individual security, we withdraw support for
collective security. And the more we do, the more we feel
justified because the services for the majority crumble
further and further, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy."
takes issue with Chuck's analysis: "Simply put, I do not
agree with Collins' collectivist world-view. He assumes
that the pursuit of "individualized solutions" --self-interest--must
inevitably come at the expense of the public good. I do
not assume that these objectives are so antagonistic,
provided individuals are allowed to experience the consequences,
good or bad, of their actions or inactions.
self-interest does conflict with the common good, this
conflict often has its roots in the perversion of individual
choices by a pernicious combination of costly and restrictive
bureaucratic regulations, economically chaotic legal procedures,
incentive-distorting subsidies, and growth-inhibiting
taxation. All these function to disconnect actions and
assumes that the wealth that an inheritor would sacrifice
will be allocated toward the public good. I assume that
much of this wealth is likely to be diverted instead to
subsidize elite special interests (i.e, corporate, bureaucratic,
military) or politically powerful constituencies, many
of whose members are not impoverished by any meaningful
passage evokes a more personal inner conflict in
who resonated with Collins' social concerns but was unsure
how to reconcile them with her concerns as a prospective
parent, "I got some of the best education this country
offers and I came out of it with a true and deep love
of learning. I see one of my godchildren who is so bright,
in touch with his heart and shining with promise, yet
he is coming out of California public schools with a real
contempt for the system knowing he was never challenged
to rise to his highest abilities. I don't want my kids
to have similar experiences, yet I know that what Chuck
is saying is true. I feel tension inside between wanting
the very best for my own children, and not wanting to
draw the line there - wanting the best for all of the
children of the human family.
can we promote collective security and still seek the
best opportunities for those closest to us?"
admire Chuck Collins," says
, "whose decision
to give away the bulk of his inheritance resulted from
seasoned and well thought-out convictions. What I find
unfortunate and wasteful are those who, out of fear and
guilt, shirk the responsibilities that accompany wealth
and give their wealth away in order to avoid the emotional
speaks of his own experience: "When at age 16 I first
learned that one day I would inherit a large estate, I
decided that the buck would stop with me. In other words,
I didn't buy the assumption that every generation was
supposed to pass the wealth onto the next. Like Chuck,
I honestly believed (and still do) that from my inheritance
the world at large could and should benefit far more than
a few children, who just happen to share my last name
and bloodline. After my father died, my wife and I decided
to give away the bulk of my inheritance over ten years
time. It was a very carefully thought-through decision.
We kept enough to provide a measure of comfort and security.
I were to inherit again, I would essentially do the same
thing, only better still: more strategic planning, more
leveraged gifts, more inspiration for like-minded philanthropists.
easy to be critical of a Chuck Collins or someone talking
about giving so much away. But when people talk about
how much they are keeping, I never hear anyone say, 'Why
in heavens name are you doing that?!' I'm not saying there
is any right or wrong. I applaud those people, even if
they are keeping most or even all their wealth in their
families, who are making conscious choices about what
they are doing and why."
had the privilege to moderate this discussion, I suspect
that the respondents would agree in large measure with
this summary from
: "Were I to pose my
vision of the way inheritances would work in this country,
it would involve, at the core, parents who know how to
care for the real needs of their children, families who
communicate openly about the challenges of their wealth,
consultants who are available to help wealthy families
work through the baggage they have about inherited money,
and estate planners who consider the emotional well-being
of their clients along with tax minimization. Philanthropy
would be a staple of the value systems in wealthy families
- not just a heavy obligation, but a joyful, vibrant,
and ultimately connective act." .
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