How to Talk to Your Children About Their Inheritance

It’s hard, apparently.

Photo: Greg Hernandez/Flickr

The Wealth Matters column in the New York Times offers a look into the lives of the extremely wealthy, offering a peek at the “mindset and the strategies of the affluent.” I read it infrequently, mostly because the subjects contained within do not apply to me and likely never will in my lifetime. I don’t need to know the practicalities of buying a castle or how to transport my Kentucky Derby horse from one state to the other. I did read this bit on the cost of showing a dog at the Wesminster Kennel Dog Club show because dogs are great, puppies are fun and it’s nice to see what people spend their money on if they have it.

Last week’s installation, however, caught my eye.

How the Wealthy Talk to Their Children About Money

Some parents have a hard time telling their kids because it’s hard to talk about money; also, I guess it’s hard to explain to a 16 year old that they stand to inherit vast amounts of cash. The author of this column, Paul Sullivan, notes that if the amount of money your child stands to receive is “life changing” — I’d love to see a number here, guys, just saying — then not telling that kid is tantamount to “parental negligence.”

Children these days can use the internet and can very easily figure out whether or not they have more or less than their peers. Even if they don’t spend an hour Googling “Rockefeller,” there are other, more subtle markers of class and wealth that present themselves from the jump: vacations to Gstaad; household staff of any size; more than one car; a regular house and a summer house and maybe a winter house, too.

“Of course your kids know how much money you have,” said Lee Miller, regional director of the New York office for Glenmede Trust, which caters to the wealthy. “Parents are willfully disbelieving that their children are not connecting all the dots.”

Let’s Watch A Documentary About The Super Rich

I’ve wondered long and hard about this; I’ve asked wealthier friends how their parents told them that they had money. I’ve thought about what I’d do if I somehow end up very wealthy and with a child. How do you tell your kid that they stand to inherit millions of dollars without ruining their work ethic? Do you have to tell them at all? If my life were to change drastically and I ever found myself in this position, I always imagined that I’d let the kids know maybe when they were older, after they’d graduated college and were looking for work — one day, I’d sit them down, tell them that they were going to get a lot of money later in life, and then send them on their way.

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