“Ugh! More money!” Why so many inheritors are ambivalent about their wealth

It may surprise most of those who read this, but the awkward truth is that many, perhaps, most inheritors are ambivalent about the money they have inherited. It’s a love/hate relationship—often more hate than love.

One inheritor  told The Inheritance Project:

“I had inherited money ever since I can remember. I get dividends from my grandfather’s trust. They come in the mail periodically. To give you and idea of just how out to lunch I am about this, I never know when those checks are coming. And I never know what the amount will be. . . . I actually remember saying dozens of times, ‘Ugh! More money!’

The feeling I had was that the money was already such a burden and a weight, and when another check came, there was even more! Often I wouldn’t even deposit those checks for weeks.

“I’m quite unclear where the money actually came from. I let other people handle it, and I hardly know what I have. . . . It is very fuzzy and hazy to me. I have kept myself in the dark because it has been too overwhelming, too intimidating, and too much of a painful area for me.”  (from The Legacy of Inherited Wealth: Interviews with Heirs)

With inheritors, ambivalence and ignorance often go hand in hand. This woman is a member of an “old-money” family, which means that the wealth goes back at least two generations. Most often in these families, the source of the wealth—the resource industry, for example, or the large holdings in land exploited for pulp and paper—have been sold. The profits have been invested and managed by professionals, maybe by a family office or a private bank. The second or third generations of inheritors may not even have met the financial professionals who manage their wealth. Almost all wealth managed and distributed in this way is tied up in trusts, often irrevocable trusts, adding a further layer of separation (and control) that distances heirs from their money.

There is so much more to say on this subject that I hope to keep at it for a few weeks. Stay tuned.