Why An Inheritance Will Ruin Your Child's Life
A friend of mine once got talking to the daughter of one of Europe’s richest families at a party (you would recognise the surname at once). She mentioned that she was an artist."I think that the worst thing you can leave your child is an inheritance. It does the little blighters no good at all."
"What kind of art?" asked my friend.
"Combustible art," she said.
"Er -- what’s that?"
"I make something," she explained patiently, "and then I set it on fire."
"Fascinating,” said my friend politely. "I’d love to see some of your work."
"You can’t," she explained, a bit less patiently. "It’s all burned up."
I think of this woman when I hear fathers debating which expensive watch they should buy to pass on, one day, to their sons. These dads are trying to create an inheritance. Sometimes it’s just the watch; sometimes the watch stands for a bigger gift bag of stately homes, billions of yuan, etc. But the more I hear of heirs like the combustible artist, the more I think that the worst thing you can leave your child is an inheritance. It does the little blighters no good at all.
When I was growing up, I’d occasionally encounter a layabout contemporary still living off the remnants of the fortune that some ancestor had acquired off the backs of downtrodden factory workers. These kids were known as “trustafarians”: white rastafarians with trust funds. Typically, most of the ancestral pennies went to high-quality dope. The trustafarians were symptoms of a country in long decline.
Then I married an American, and through her I’ve discovered the same phenomenon in the newly declining United States. There, typically, the fortune was acquired by a cutthroat postwar business mogul determined that his family need never relive his own Depression childhood. Eventually, despite the best efforts of private medical clinics, Cutthroat hands in his dinner pail. Then his descendants and their descendants spend the rest of their lives scheming to get their mitts on as large as possible a share of Cutthroat’s fortune. In a family of heirs, few people ever do anything. Why bother passing exams or making non-combustible art or even getting out of bed in the a.m.? The point of life becomes the honeypot. The great anxiety is that your relatives might get more of it than you do.
No wonder rich people nowadays hire consultants to tell them how not to screw up their children. But it’s all in vain: a honeypot will inevitably screw up your kids. The new conventional wisdom is that when Cutthroat drops off his twig, he should leave the spawn “enough to do something, but not enough to do nothing.” For instance, he might want to put them through uni and possibly even buy them an apartment, but everything else is up to them.
I personally have hit upon an even better strategy to ensure the Kuper heirs shape up. When I finally check out of the hotel, and the juniors excitedly unfurl the parchment will, they will find that the only thing in it is debts. They’ll have to spend their lives working them off. That'll keep 'em sharp.