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Mom’s mention of money puzzling

Sun., July 31, 2011

Dear Carolyn: My parents are in their mid-60s. They’re retired and having a wonderful time, which I’m very happy about. Recently I was visiting them and, out of nowhere, my mother said, “I hope you kids know your father and I aren’t going to be leaving you anything when we die. Our legacy to you was raising you well and loving you the way we do.”

I wasn’t sure what to say, so I made some nondescript response to see if she would continue, but she changed the subject.

My parents received money from their parents when they passed, which allowed them to retire early. My parents didn’t pay for our college tuition, nor have they helped out with weddings, home down payments, etc. They’ve just never offered, and my siblings and I have always done fine without their financial support.

I guess I’m just not sure what to think about her statement. I feel a little slighted, which makes me feel guilty. Should I bring it up with her, or with my brothers? – S.

I realize what you mean by “out of nowhere” – your mother lobbed it into a conversation about something else, right? – but in another sense, her comment came from a long-established somewhere.

Your parents set two clear money precedents: leaving you to your own devices after you turned 18, and not laying issues out for family-wide dissection.

In that sense, there are no surprises in her words.

In their coming from the mouth of someone living fat on inherited money, though, her words pack an unpleasant surprise.

Yet I still think your mom’s pronouncement breaks some insensitivity records. While it’s important for parents not to spoil their kids, and to equip them to stand alone, that has always been a tough line to walk for parents, especially wealthy ones, especially with inherited money. It requires a balance of being generous in sharing good fortune with family while both modeling discipline in their lifestyle, and emphasizing the importance of investing hard work into individual interests.

Enjoying luxuries they didn’t earn while leaving their kids to earn their luxuries? That’s some rich soil for resentment.

This could, of course, be Mom’s way of warning you the inheritance is running dry. If so, though, there was better phrasing available. For example, the truth: “The money we inherited is starting to run out” – because it was never abundant to begin with, because their investments collapsed, whatever – “so I wanted to make sure you’re secure without it.” Certainly don’t feel guilty for wishing your mom had some tact.

So you have two nonspoiled choices. You can bite your tongue, accept this as consistent with the parents you know, and decide on your own what to do with the information. Or, you can talk to your mom to make sure all is well. “What you said the other day about not leaving us money is still on my mind – actually, more the fact that you even brought it up. Are you guys having financial trouble? Is there something we should know?”

She can tell you it’s none of your business, and you can agree that it isn’t, as long as they’re flush. (Though you can add that if they are, the timing and intent of her pronouncement puzzles you.) Otherwise, it’s fair for you to follow through on a concern that your mother planted herself.


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