Tag Archives: inheritance

Fortunate Misfortune: Thoughts on Privilege

About a year ago I met a young woman on Craigslist with the goal of finding an ongoing exercise/running partner. Unlike other strictly platonic folks I’ve met in the past, never to see or hear from again, we totally hit it off. Her friendly, quirky and talkative personality was refreshing, and we always seemed to have something to talk about to take our minds off our increasingly pounding heart rates.

Even though I don’t mean to, I always judge people immediately regarding their socioeconomic status. I’m aware that I do this, and feel bad about it, but I do it nonetheless. I grew up upper middle class with friends all over the middle class spectrum (some on the lower end of it) but always found myself meshing best with others who came from the upper middle class side of town, so to speak. Anyone who was upper upper middle class, or lower upper class was usually too spoiled for me to handle, so there was a group of people who I felt naturally comfortable around somewhere in the middle of American socioeconomic rank.

I’ve always been aware of my privilege, as well as my lack of great wealth as some others have. I know a large reason I am where I am today is due to my luck of being born into a family that could afford to send me to college with no debts, and help see me on to my financial independence (from my parents, not from working) at age 21.

My new friend, who I have seen off and on again this last year, never came off as someone with a lot of money. I didn’t really think too much about her socioeconomic status, but she seemed to be middle class, making her own money through building her impressive career in design. Her fiancee, now husband, could have been middle class or lower middle class, but it was clear she was supporting him as he completes his education. I didn’t once think this girl is loaded.

Loaded is not the right word to use. Through a series of events, some terribly tragic, and others just random, she is virtually a multi-millionaire. Not a billionaire, but still, through chance, fate, and unfortunate fortune, she doesn’t need to worry about money, even though she doesn’t want to live like she doesn’t need to worry about it.

Adopted at a young age, she grew up in a household with entrepreneurial parents. They own a storage facility that they built from the ground up for less than $1M, and it’s now worth $2M to $3M. Besides its value, it also takes in about $40k per month currently even though it’s not fully occupied due to the economy. They own two houses and have saved well through their life. Until recently, my friend was destined to one day split this fortune with her brother. That is, until tragedy struck.

Her brother went into the army and was killed only a few weeks after his first tour in Iraq. Her family was absolutely devastated, and will never fully recover. But one strange financial twist to the situation was that apparently all army families, if their loved one is killed in combat, get $100k in memory. In addition to this, her brother decided to take out a large life insurance policy out on himself, which resulted in a random $400k check upon his death. This terrible tragedy left my friend with $500k in the bank (no small sum of change) that she doesn’t want to touch, and feels terrible about. Yet that sum of money will change her life, as will the one-day inheritance from her parents. It seems the worst of fortune in one’s family offers, at times, the best of financial gain. Even with typical family inheritance, in a morbid awful way, families with parents that die in early retirement leave behind great wealth, versus those who live into their hundreds.

This is not to say that anyone, sans the occasional sociopath, would ever wish death on a loved one in order to have financial cushion in their bank accounts. But the reality is that wealth — especially inherited wealth of families that can be passed on for generations and spew centuries of inequality — is often spurred by tragedy and other unfortunate circumstance. Wealth built in one lifetime is rarely as large as family wealth built over the years, and while wealth can be invested and grow on its own, it often is the result of these occurrences that no one would ever wish for, but many find themselves entangled in.

There is no moral of the story here, but just some thoughts on socioeconomic status and wealth that I wanted to capture after tonight’s conversation. I greatly enjoyed the open and honest talk about wealth and privilege, and it was refreshing to speak to someone who is — in sheer financial terms — doing better than I am and also dealing with mixed feelings of guilt, gratefulness, and psychological avoidance of financial truth.

I also thought about the friendships I have with those who grew up in lower or higher socioeconomic status and realized that there is definitely some barrier in our conversations and connection, this unspoken discomfort with being around someone who either does not have to work to get by, or who has a psychological block keeping them in their socioeconomic status (ie not finishing college even if they are very intelligent), and the shared comfort felt with someone in a similar socioeconomic status. This is not to say I can’t be friends with people richer or poorer, but there is definitely something about befriending people who are on the same financial page as you versus others who are playing entirely different financial games, and who started either 10 steps behind or 10 steps ahead.




Passing Down Wealth From Generation to Generation

My father is dying of cancer and has a short time left to live. While his health is ok now, his medicines will stop working at some point over the next few years and from then on the cancer will take over and he will get sicker until he passes.

This post is not about my father’s health, but it’s important to note to put this into context.

Previously, many of my readers have left comments offended by a post I wrote about expecting an inheritance. A conversation I had with my dad this weekend over the phone continues this topic.

He told me how “I” need to get my mother to understand that she needs to live off the interest on the 401k. They get $7000 a month and there is no reason that they can’t live on that. (My mom is a spendaholic.)

My dad went on to tell me how he spent his whole life building wealth for the family so it could be passed down to his kids (me and my sister) and that we could pass it down to our children. Both him and my mother grew up in the lower middle class and did not have wealth. Their parents will not be passing down a great deal to them. So he wanted to build wealth up for our family, for the future. He wasn’t trying to make my sister or I rich, but he did want to make sure we didn’t have to worry about not having enough funds to get us through life. Once you have wealth, living off the interest becomes feasible. It’s not about luxury, but it is about having a lofty security blanket for your family – as in – your children and their children and so on.

But it makes me sick to my stomach to think about how in the future, I will be in such an odd spot — when my father passes, it will be up to me to try to make sure his dream lives on. Yet that dream is for my sister and I to obtain an inheritance. My sister has a learning disability and while she can comprehend some of this she is also younger and I don’t think she will understand a great deal of the financial situation (other than wanting the money.) My mother will want to spend it all. I understand finances, saving, living off interest – I could probably teach my mother to do this, but ultimately it would be so that I could get money after she dies.

My mom didn’t work once I was born, so all of the money in savings is from my dad’s years of working many hours to build this wealth. On one hand I feel the responsibility to make sure that the reason my dad worked so hard his whole life (probably causing unnecessary stress and part of the reason he gained so much weight and got sick) lives on, and part of me feels like this isn’t really my business at all besides making sure my mom doesn’t spend everything too quickly – she does need enough money to survive for many years. She’s in her mid 50s so hopefully she’ll be around for a long time.

I do want to make sure my mom doesn’t go crazy with spending, but she could very easily live a luxurious life and spend every penny if she wanted to in the future. And who am I to stop her?

My Parents Make Me Sad

[edited to add: a lot of you have left comments offended by my question if it’s wrong to hope for some inheritance from one’s parents one day down the road. I responded to the comments, but also wanted to note higher up in the post for future readers — I agree my parents owe me nothing. They have already given me so much, and for that I’m grateful. My father raised me and my sister always mentioning how one day we’d get the house a long time in the future, so in the back of my mind I just thought that would happen. My dad worked his whole life spending 8 hours a day plus a long hour-and-a-half commute, and he made a sizable income. My mother, who took care of the kids and house, always spent frivolously and taught me very bad spending habits. She is very narcissistic and only thinks about others when it benefits her. Thus, my hurt more than anything is the difference between the way my father thinks in terms of leaving something behind to his children versus the selfish nature of my mother. My father is dying of cancer and my mother will likely survive much longer than him, with all the money he saved hard all his life to have and spend in retirement. Ultimately, while an inheritance would be nice, I’m not expecting it or depending on it. It’s more of the principle of the matter, if that makes any sense. One day when I have children and get older, I want to be able to leave them something, to have something to pass on after my life. I don’t want them to expect that of me, but as a mother that’s something I’d like to do if I have the financial means. In much of history and even today, a person’s wealth is determined by two things – family and ability. Maybe with a little luck thrown in. If you want to judge me for thinking about these things, go ahead. I’m sure I’m not the first person to think them and I won’t be the last.]

My dad, now retired and receiving a pension of over $4k a month, is watching his money flush down the train, and there’s nothing he can do about it. Well, perhaps there is, but any reasonable way of maintaining financial sanity within my family is overwhelmed by his inability to be rational and my mother’s complete lack of ability to comprehend reality.

I tried to help my family out. When I went home, I found out a bit more about the financial situation. My dad is retired, he has a little under $1 Mil in the 401k, which is less than it was, of course, since the market is in the shitter. That’s a decent sum for retirement, I guess, though they do say you should save $1 mil per adult, and that’s $1 Mil for 2. Regardless, that should be enough, if spending is wise. It doesn’t even have to be frugal. But my mom refuses to accept that money, even that much money, is finite.

So they took out a $190k home equity loan to build on a new room to the house recently, and while my dad is keeping up on paying the interest, he isn’t paying off more than a few hundred dollars of the principal every other month or so. He can’t. My mom is spending something like $7000 a month. Or more. It’s really sad. That’s on top of what my dad spends on living… mostly food and medical bills (oh, yea, he has cancer, and has tons of co-pays for his doctor’s appointments and drugs).

They don’t need to be spending that much. It’s mostly my mom’s fault when it comes to this. My dad doesn’t buy a lot. He has to spend the money on his medical bills. But my mom is just ridiculous. She spent $1000 on 5 pairs of shoes recently. When I ask her why she needed 5 pairs of shoes, she explains that when she finds something that fits she has to buy it, and a lot of it, because what if she never finds something that fits again?

Beyond the clothes, there’s jewelery, makeup, a cleaning service that costs $800 a month (to clean the house once a week), overspending on groceries ($800 a month), etc, etc. And of course the few hundred on QVC each month. Which she watches picture-in-picture on her big-screen TV at all times to make sure she doesn’t miss out on deals.

So… is it wrong to be upset that she will spend away any inheritance I might have otherwise one day seen? My dad is more of a saver than a spender, and he always said that he saved up enough money that one day he’d pass it on to us, his two daughters. But he’s not going to live as long as my mother is and she’ll be left with all of his savings to spend into debt. And that’s what she’ll do. At this rate, I don’t think 1 mil minus the $190 in home equity minus my sister’s college education will last her.

Even without considering a potential inheritance, this situation is whack. I keep trying to tell my mom to get a job but she says she doesn’t have time. Yea, because she’s spending her whole life glued to the TV and QVC. She says she spends all day cleaning, and the house is never clean enough, yada yada. It’s one excuse after another. My mom is absolutely crazy.

My dad has given up at trying to get her to budget. She doesn’t listen. He used to scream about it. Now he just screams about other things. It’s so messed up. And I can’t do anything about it… except just be wise about my own financial life. It’s hard to change my psychology of spending based on how my parents taught me about money, but I’m trying… really, really hard. Ok, sort of hard.