Regarding Inheritance

Here is another bit of cultural folklore I picked up in the market places of this old world that I pass on to you for your consideration.

“If you want your children to love each other forever, don’t leave them any money when you die.”

As one old guy told me, “Happiness is being retired and spending all of my kid’s inheritance before I die.” And, of course, there are the serious admonitions like, “Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance.”

Generally speaking, our culture is not bound by strict ethnic traditions, wherein lies part of the problem. Problems seem to arise where the passing on of the inheritance is determined by a type of logic positioned somewhere between a well-thought-out estate plan and a knee-jerk whim. Jewish traditions lean toward the oldest son receiving twice the amount as the other sons. Other eastern cultures have the daughters receiving nothing, or the sons receiving twice the amount as the daughters. In some matrilineal countries I have visited, the inheritance is passed down only from the mother to the daughters.

To complicate the situation in our culture, our government entities have decided that unless you have a valid will, wherein you have legally expressed how your inheritance will be divided, you are declared to have died “intestate,” and the government will decide where your wealth will end up. Seven out of ten people in the United States die without leaving a legal will. Making sure you have a valid will before you die is a grave responsibility!

The practice of passing on property, money, and rights gets a little knotty when it comes to perceived inequities of the recipients. It seems that the least responsible expect the most, and those who have been the least frugal expect the lion’s share. And we haven’t even mentioned the catch-all accusation, “oh yea, ‘what’s-his-name’ was always the favorite.”

It seems to me that inheritance squabbles center on at least three areas:

  • Arithmetic: “The appraisals and evaluations are wrong. It should have been more.”
  • Attitude: It is a temptation in emotional situations involving money to let it become a “heart issue” of attitude rather than a “head issue” of logic and common sense. That is when you hear, “It’s just not right . . . it’s just not fair.”
  • Affection: “I loved our parents more than any of the other siblings did. I was always there for them; I should have received more.”

I love the old Yiddish bit of advice: “He who comes for the inheritance is often made to pay for the funeral.” Perhaps the inheritance issue that trumps the feelings of ill will when there is money left, is when there is no money left and no provisions made for the expense of those seniors in their last years. Senior expenses and deaths can also mean the inheritance passes on liabilities and debts. Now, that issue will cause some squabbling amongst the siblings.

Isadora Duncan may have captured the issue well when she declared, “The finest inheritance you can give a child is to allow it to make its own way, completely on its own feet.”