I’ll do it my way
Discussing inheritance is too important to be left until someone has died, says Georgina Lawton
Inheritance, a fantastically awkward familial topic during life and after death, can ease – or cause – serious stress. It is never convenient to discuss taxes and wills with your dad, or reveal to your aunt that you are not that interested in the heirlooms that have been in the family for, oh, centuries. But, then again, squabbling with your siblings over the silver after the funeral doesn’t seem appealing either. It is all strange and morbid because, whenever you have it, the conversation about inheritance is predicated on one ominous certainty: that the people we love are going to die. I don’t know if a guidebook on inheritance etiquette exists, but with research suggesting that millennials are set to inherit more than any postwar generation, perhaps now is the time to publish one.
Data from the Resolution Foundation revealed that inheritable wealth for those currently aged 20-35 will double in the next two decades, reaching an all-time peak in 2035. The biggest catch is that the average age at which most people will benefit is 61. The report also highlighted that this mega transfer of wealth will further entrench societal inequality in our lifetimes; people tend to couple up with those of a similar financial background, and more than 80% of millennials who already own their home have parents who are homeowners, whereas nearly half of non-homeowning millennials have parents who don’t own their homes.
For many, then, this news won’t affect them in the slightest. The report indicated that about a third will have no property wealth to inherit and those of us who do will find that it comes far too late to alleviate life’s biggest financial burdens – children and houses.
Saying that, inheritance should be a topic raised by families while they are still alive, to reduce the risk of postfuneral family feuding and provide clarity concerning parental wishes and plans. It is a shame that so many of us find it all too awkward.
I remember the knotted dread that bound my stomach aged eight or so, when my grandparents sat my dad, his siblings and us kids down on the sofa to explain their thoughts when it came to divvying up their items. Back then, the idea of existing without any of them felt uncertain and hazy, like a mirage.
Then, many years later, before my father got sick and the tornado of all that was yet to happen to us was just a grey dot on a distant horizon, he used to joke about me and my brother inheriting our small, suburban home when he wanted a favour around the house. “This will all be yours when
It felt insulting to discuss money when my dad was battling cancer, but it gave him comfort that everything was in place
I’m gooooone,” he would boom in a mock-ghoulish tone, dragging out the vowels for dramatic effect. He would smile and say: “So you better practice looking after it now.” He even managed to keep up the old joke after his terminal diagnosis. It felt insanely ridiculous – even insulting to him at times – to discuss something as trivial as money when he was battling a venomous cancer, but I know it gave him great comfort to ensure that everything was in place for me, my mum and my brother after he died.
I realise how lucky I am that I had such a caring and conscientious father, who spent most of his life planning ahead for my benefit. I have noticed recently, though, that other friends who have sick or elderly parents are also starting to have difficult conversations about money – but this shouldn’t just be done in the face of death, we should start while we are all alive and well.
Finances are often a taboo topic among families, and approaching inheritance the wrong way can come across as disrespectful and pushy at best – and at worst, it can obliterate relationships. However, research such as that from the Resolution Foundation, could help to spark important discussions about inheritance now, before it is too late.