KATH­LEEN NOO­NAN

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - INSIDE - KATH­LEEN NOO­NAN noo­nanslast­word@gmail.com

Ajour­nal­ist I once worked with came through the swing­ing doors of the news­room this day in a suit, ironed. All highly sus­pi­cious. It meant either a fu­neral or court ap­pear­ance. (Sean, a mad yachtie and flouter of laws, both land and ma­rine, was not averse to the odd skir­mish with the author­i­ties, be­liev­ing ev­ery­one needed a hobby.)

This day it was nei­ther. He had been at the so­lic­i­tor’s of­fice for the read­ing of his fa­ther’s will. His col­leagues knew the old man, a lovely bloke when sober, had drunk him­self into vir­tual poverty, so some­one asked gen­tly, how’d it go? “In­her­ited a sil­ver teapot and his love of cricket,’’ he an­nounced, seem­ing dead pleased. “My broth­ers all in­her­ited his al­co­holism, so I’m miles in front.”

With that dose of Ir­ish black hu­mour, he went back to sube­dit­ing.

“My aunt died of in­fluenza, so they said. But it’s my be­lief they done the old woman in … and what be­come of her new straw hat that should have come to me? Some­body pinched it, and what I say is, them that pinched it, done her in.’’

If you’re a fan of mu­si­cal My Fair Lady you’ll recog­nise the words of flower seller El­iza Doolit­tle, who seemed to be wail­ing about a straw hat. But her rant was re­ally about en­ti­tle­ment and in­her­i­tance, and thanks to Aus­tralia’s high prop­erty prices, en­ti­tle­ment and in­her­i­tance are all the rage.

“It’s like ar­senic in a creek af­ter gold min­ing. The poi­son goes on for gen­er­a­tions.” That’s a lawyer I know who deals with dis­putes over in­her­i­tance. He says Aus­tralian cap­i­tal cities’ boom­ing house prices are lead­ing to an in­crease in clients at his door. He ad­vises friends: “Walk away and don’t look back. For­get about the money. Go and live a con­tented life.”

He says le­gal dis­putes usu­ally de­stroy your clos­est re­la­tion­ships and those of your chil­dren with their cousins and aunts and un­cles. “It’s a vi­o­lent seis­mic rift in fam­i­lies.” To clients he doesn’t par­tic­u­larly like he says: “You have an ex­cel­lent case, let’s go for it!” Of course, Gina Rine­hart, Aus­tralia’s rich­est woman and pa­tron saint of happy fam­i­lies, should be our guid­ing light on this.

So, it is re­fresh­ing to see there is an­other way and read the thoughts of one of Aus­tralia’s most suc­cess­ful in­vest­ment bankers and gen­er­ous donors to the arts, Si­mon Mor­dant, re­cently in a na­tional mag­a­zine: “I came from a very mid­dle-class fam­ily and the only thing I in­her­ited from my fa­ther was cuff­links. I don’t be­lieve in leav­ing things to peo­ple, and we have a great deal of plea­sure help­ing peo­ple achieve their am­bi­tions in the arts. I have seen in­her­i­tance de­stroy so many kids. Our son has been brought up to have his own am­bi­tions on his own jour­ney, but we don’t want him sit­ting there think­ing he is go­ing to win Lotto when we die.”

So, what do you plan to leave your kids? For some chil­dren, size­able in­her­ited wealth is a mill­stone. Just think, your par­ents were self-made and you were sim­ply handed yours. It’s got to nig­gle, you know, in be­tween the ski­ing trips to Aspen. And al­ways there’s that old adage cir­cling: the first gen­er­a­tion builds the fam­ily for­tune. Sec­ond gen­er­a­tion reaps the ben­e­fits of the fam­ily for­tune. Third gen­er­a­tion squan­ders the fam­ily for­tune.

Some wealthy par­ents nip that cy­cle in the bud. Body Shop founder Dame Anita Rod­dick pledged her vast

Once upon a time the poor en­ter­tained the rich. To­day the rich pro­vide the en­ter­tain­ment as the masses watch the wealthy wail like spoilt tod­dlers in court

wealth to char­ity and, when she died in 2004, left noth­ing in her will for her daugh­ters. Sam Rod­dick said: “I knew when I was 16 … what we could have got would have been ob­scene … The cul­mi­na­tion of how you adore some­body isn’t what you give them on your death. It’s how you treat them in your life.”

You would think, wouldn’t you, that the more money there is to go around, the less vile and ti­tanic the bat­tles. Yet most in­her­i­tance fights grow uglier in di­rect pro­por­tion to how much is up for grabs.

There are some doozies go­ing around in this town. Bar­ris­ters su­ing their sis­ters and broth­ers. Judges su­ing their moth­ers. They sue, claim­ing “it’s the prin­ci­ple”, some­times un­til there is not a cent left of the es­tate.

Once upon a time the poor en­ter­tained the rich. To­day the rich pro­vide the en­ter­tain­ment as the masses watch the wealthy wail like spoilt tod­dlers in court: “It’s not fair. I want my share.”

I reckon par­ents who be­lieve they have to leave wealth to their chil­dren, to give them a leg-up in life, are ac­tu­ally say­ing: “I don’t think you can cope on your own.”

No­body owes you any­thing in life. If you pass on to your chil­dren abun­dant love, a work ethic, a de­cent moral com­pass and a solid ed­u­ca­tion, re­lax, you’ve done enough. You’ve given them the best start. Are you still want­ing an in­her­i­tance? A mate says he has in­her­ited his par­ents’ di­a­betes, dodgy fallen arches, ha­tred of Shake­speare, my­opic eyes and no sense of di­rec­tion.

Be care­ful what you wish for.

AND AN­OTHER THING …

I’m of­ten sideswiped by the good­ness of strangers and from the most un­likely places. Last time I was talk­ing to a bunch of Univer­sity of Third Agers, I men­tioned the work of DVCon­nect, Queens­land do­mes­tic vi­o­lence helpline, and next minute the mob or­gan­is­ing the an­nual King­fisher Art Show at Sal­ford Wa­ters Re­tire­ment Es­tate, at Vic­to­ria Point on Bris­bane’s south­ern bay­side, swung into ac­tion.

Their 22nd an­nual art show opens on the night of July 12. All prof­its go to DVCon­nect and the show, at Vic­to­ria Point, runs un­til July 17.

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