Taking Parents Off the Hook

shutterstock_128072579The New York Times published an interesting story this weekend on the expectations that parents and children have with respect to inheritances. The article summarized a study published in The Gerontologist last year, in which older adults and their children were polled on whether or not they expected to leave or inherit an inheritance.

It turns out that 86.2% of the parents expected to leave their children something, but only 44.6% of the kids were expecting to receive anything.  Interestingly, the adult children who were getting money from their parents during life had a higher expectation about getting more after their parents died than did children who were not receiving such support. Even more interesting, adult children who were providing support for their elderly parents were less likely to expect an inheritance, even though their parents were more likely to leave one. (The article doesn’t say what ‘support’ means here and whether it was financial or more in the realm of help with daily living.)

Psychologists opine that older adults feel morally obligated to provide for their adult children, partly out of concern for their children’s ability to maintain a similar standard of living, given the decline in earning power, and partly out of a sense that family matters most.

The study’s authors attributed the mismatches in expectation in part to families having trouble discussing money in a forthright way. The article’s author concludes that it’s up to the adult children to let their parents know that they don’t expect, or need, an inheritance. Instead, he advises his parents to “[s]pend the money on your health, comfort, and making the kind of memories with close friends and family members that will last.”

As someone who spends a lot of time listening to parents (of all ages) sort out their responsibilities and desires when it comes to providing for future generations, I wholeheartedly agree. It is heartbreaking to meet with people in their nineties who are worrying about taking care of their children (who are in their sixties already) instead of focusing on their own health and well-being.