Economists estimate aging baby boomers have $30 trillion to $48 trillion in personal assets to pass down over the next 25 years. Some say it will be the greatest wealth transfer in history. It may also be the greatest disappointment.
In all likelihood, your fine parents aren’t among the 1% who hold the vast majority of that accumulated wealth. And, even if there is some money bouncing around in your family, it could easily be dissipated by your parents in their final years. Or, they may surprise you and leave you with little or nothing. Just because.
Whatever the outcome, nobody likes a whiner, and people can distribute their wealth any way they please.
So follow these rules to retain your dignity and sanity:
• Genuinely expect nothing, and you won’t be unpleasantly surprised. Even if Mom and Dad have told you that you are getting some dough and you know — or think you know — that they have lots of money stashed away, don’t count on it. Instead, imagine some disaster strikes and their wealth is depleted. Use that as your reality (though one you keep to yourself) in making your own economic decisions. Act as if you are absolutely on your own financially. You will be happier.
• Once the terms of the inheritance are disclosed, do not dwell on the division of the spoils. Move on. Complaining makes you look small to others and, inevitably, yourself.
• Forget the past. You may have spent years watching your parents repeatedly bail out your siblings from dumb investments or compulsive spending while you were self-sufficient. Maybe you shouldered most of the responsibility of caring for your parents in their dotage. Yet they divide their estate equally among the siblings. So be it.
• Can’t get past your hurt feelings? Open your own wallet and buy yourself some therapy. Complaining to a family member runs the risk of poisoning a lifelong relationship and won’t result in any reallocation of the estate. A counselor, on the other hand, can listen and help you find a path toward positive feelings.
• Spouses can make these situations significantly better — or considerably worse. If the death is in your spouse’s family, butt out and focus on being supportive.
• Reflect on the inheritance process you experienced. Let it inform your own choices.
• More personally, you might like to be as transparent and honest as possible in discussing your plans — and also quite clear that events might cause you to change your mind on these matters. The $1 million you told your kids they would split could end up being consumed by first-class, round-the-clock care for yourself or a spouse; or a late-in-life desire to travel extravagantly; or, God forbid, a gambling habit. So be honest in the extreme: We have this much, and I’m guessing some of it may remain when we are gone, and our present mind-set is that you would get X, but we are human, and all of that is subject to change, so best not to bank on anything.
• A will is not a report card. You may never understand why your father willed his meticulously restored 1956 Corvette to your sister or why your mother handed down the beach cottage to your brother, but resist the assumption that such decisions are judgments from the grave. Think of the entirety of your relationship with your parent or parents, not a final transaction that displeases you.