More Than Money
Issue #29
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Money Changes Everything

Table of Contents

“Equitable Giving in the Family”

MTM Online

I'm interested in hearing about others' experiences dealing with the families of their "less than monied" (for lack of a better term) spouses. My husband and I are trying to figure out a way to help out our nieces and nephews on his side (there are eight of them, ranging from ages fourteen to twenty-three). We've thought of setting up an education fund, but some of our nieces and nephews have dropped out of school and have no intention of returning. We would like to help in an equitable way, while considering their individual needs. It's kind of like setting up trusts for our own kids, but we don't want to fall into the role of acting like their parents.

I love Amy's question about how to share the wealth with "less than monied" extended family. Might we also say that of "less than monied" friends?

I immediately had a simple, yet novel idea. How about at a certain age (let's say twenty-three, since that's the oldest of your nieces and nephews) you offer them the opportunity to apply for a grant from you, based on their values, for a certain amount of money? The grant-writing process would allow them to think through what they would do with a hunk of money. One might go to graduate school; another might take five years of art classes after work; someone else might make a down payment on a home; another, a trip to India . . . Perhaps they would know they could expect this opportunity at ages eighteen, twenty-three, and thirty.

I like this idea better than just giving them $10,000 a year, which can easily become an expectation. Maybe I'll try this with my two kids.

I like many aspects of Jody's idea, but it seems to me that after soliciting a friend's grant application, it would be very hard to turn it down. Perhaps that's not a problem, since the friends may broadly share your values and think carefully about what you might find supportable, but with some friends it could be a difficulty.
- anonymous author

I agree that after receiving a grant request from a friend, it would be hard to say no. Although, in theory, proposing a grant application to a friend sounds great, I'd feel uncomfortable doing it. First, it would make me feel as if I were asking my friend to jump through a hoop to prove need. Then, after getting the presentation, I'd have a hard time turning it down unless it was clearly something frivolous.

Regarding how to be generous to the next generation: tinkering with the language of making grants, I'd suggest that you offer to make an investment in a young person. Something along the lines of, "We really believe in your talent, your hopes, and your dreams, and we would like to invest in you." The language of "support you" has a subtext of wondering whether that young person could make it on his or her own. "Investment" implies affirmation and expands the notion of family wealth, i.e. that our family's wealth is comprised not only of our financial resources, but also of the talent, energy, and future of our youngest members.

My grandmother offered each of her college-age grandchildren a trip anywhere in the world. The requirements were that we had to stay in one place, be there at least two months, and learn something (in the broadest sense). The only request that was ever turned down was to ski in New Zealand. I went to West Africa on Crossroads Africa. It was a life-changing experience. My older brothers went to the Negev on an archeological dig and to summer school at the London School of Economics. My younger sister parlayed the offer into an entire year in Paris. My mother is about to continue the tradition with her grandchildren.

Since the kids have all heard our stories, they started imagining what they might do by the time they were ten. Although they have all traveled widely, the "grandmother trip" seems to have special significance, maybe because they have to make a proposal and have it accepted (and also because they are deliciously independent of parents). Several of the cousins plan to do it together.

Another cousin in my generation, who has never married, takes each of her godchildren on an amazing trip when they turn eleven. So far, the trips have included China, Kenya, and South America. At her fiftieth birthday, the toasts of gratitude given by the six kids she has taken (now teenage and collegeage) gave me goosebumps.

We give the "siblings" $10,000 yearly and have said we'll pay for their college tuition, but have lately been thinking more along the lines Jody proposes. What about putting a dollar amount on what a college tuition would be-say, $25,000 per year for four years--to be applied toward some form of "training" for life skills?

I gave several thousand dollars to each of my siblings with no strings attached. I wrote a generic letter saying, "This is for you to use to have fun or pay off some bills." Of course, the ones I hoped to pay off bills ended up buying toys. From that experience, I learned that I'm not the type to "let go" of the end result, so I need to be specific when I give, in order to feel comfortable with the outcome.

We are trying to decide what to do about our nephews and nieces. So far, we haven't set aside a college fund, though we may still do that. I see a big advantage to the Section 529 funds that grow tax free if used for educational expenses. However, if we do this, I wonder if it will give their parents less motivation to save. I am starting to feel better about this, though, since I had a straightforward conversation with the father, who has since stopped buying expensive toys for the kids. I said, "We will be happy to help with college expenses, as long as you have also saved as best you can. We would feel resentful if there is no college savings and the kids have expensive toys (like motorcycles)." He reacted positively and is now looking into different investment vehicles. It helps, too, that we don't buy our own kids expensive toys.

-All excerpts printed with permission.

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