Dear Prudence: Should we leave our money to charity or to our children?

Dear Prudence Answers More Questions Every Week, Only for Slate Plus Members

Dear Prudence Answers More Questions Every Week, Only for Slate Plus Members

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Oct. 12 2015 3:31 PM
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Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

More from Dear Prudence, only for Slate Plus members. 

Every week, Emily Yoffe answers questions from readers in a live chat. Now she’ll be answering a few additional questions for Slate Plus members only.

Emily Yoffe
Emily Yoffe

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Q. Trust Fund Baby: My husband and I are very affluent. I come from a wealthy family and received a large inheritance. My husband, on the other hand, grew up below the poverty line. He chose a lucrative career and made many wise financial choices throughout his life. Together we have accumulated a small fortune. We are planning our will, and my husband insists the entirety of our fortune, minus a few thousand to cover funeral costs, should go to charity. I would like to pass on our fortune to our children. My husband insists this will cause our children to become lazy and unmotivated. Not only do I take this as a personal insult, but I think his claims are entirely unfounded. We both want our children to become successful on their own accord, but I don’t see the harm in giving them the gift of financial security. Who is right?

A: Since you started with a pile, and he made one, you two can accomplish both your goals. You can leave a substantial amount to charity, and you can also leave money for your children, structured in such a way that it helps and doesn’t disable them. Of course there are spoiled, rich bums. (And there are people who have nothing and also lack motivation.) But the desire to accomplish something on your own is a powerful force, and it sounds as if you are instilling this in your children through your own life examples. You two need to sit with an estate planner and discuss how you want the money you leave your children to be structured. You can set up a trust with the explicit purpose of enhancing some parts of their lives, without snuffing out their need to be contributing citizens. See how to set up an estate so that your children are given the money over time, and it is not all available at once. It could be that they can withdraw funds to pay for such things as further education or the education of their children, or to help them purchase a home, etc. Few people have the ability to pass on a financial cushion to their children, and I bet most people would like to. Easing life’s financial difficulties does not have to mean erasing the urge to be productive. 

Q. I’ve Never Been Financially Independent At 26 years old, I have never been financially independent. My parents paid for my college education, and when I chose low-paying service corps work after graduating, they helped me out so I wouldn’t starve. Although I love the work I have been doing, I decided I wanted to support myself, so when my contract ended in September, I began looking for higher-paying employment. Then I discovered I was pregnant by my boyfriend of five years. We’re very much in love, and he’s older and wealthy, so our baby is cause for jubilation. I could happily nest for the rest of my pregnancy and see how I feel about work after our child’s birth. But whenever I consider that, I feel ashamed and as if I have a character defect for not wanting to pursue a higher-paying career as well. Can you offer any guidance?

A: There’s a reason that the law allows children up to the age of 26 to continue being dependents on their parents for the purposes of obtaining health insurance—it’s that so many of your cohort are in the same situation. You’re lucky that you could graduate from college without debt, and that should be a source of gratitude, but not of shame. You went to work after graduation, and your parents had the ability to help supplement your meager salary. Again, nothing to be embarrassed about. Still, you felt you needed to be financially independent, and that’s admirable. But now you’re pregnant. Great that this child is a cause for jubilation, but of course you know that if you’re not married to the father, you’re not working, and things don’t work out, that puts you at serious economic disadvantage. If you two split up, the father would have to support the child, but in the absence of marriage, you would lack many rights. You and your boyfriend need to have some serious discussions about what you want out of each other and life now that you’re going to be parents. If you know you want to take some time out of the workforce after your child is born, again, that’s fine. But I believe all people should have the capacity to support themselves. You can become a young mother and also, over the long term, pursue professional accomplishment and economic independence.