Children have some funny ideas about their parents' money. And I don't mean just teenagers, but "children" even into middle-age.
A 25-year-old man told me recently that he knew he'd be comfortable in middle-age because his parents had some property he'd inherit. Being young, he thinks of his fiftyish mother and father as standing on the edge of the grave. When I told him that, given his family's longevity, he probably wouldn't inherit until he was 65, he looked stunned.
On the very same day, an old friend (fortyish) complained to me over lunch that his father was frittering money away on a "floozy" (translation: his father's second, and younger, wife). He appeared genuinely shocked that a man of his father's "advanced" age - 68 and in excellent health - should be doing anything other than playing boccie ball and sipping hot lemonade. Traveling to China with a wife 20 years his junior was a violation of everything the son had come to expect.
What particularly struck me is that both these gents, neither one of them especially grasping or unusually motivated by greed, seemed to think that their parents money actually belonged to them. The young man had pratically spent it in his mind; the middle-aged man was bitter at the thought that a good part of it might be slipping away.
I have news for all hopeful children: Better lower your expectations. Parents have other things in mind than living frugally and dying young.
The sexual, social and economic revolutions have hit the older generation as well as the young. People don't hesitate to marry at late ages; they expect more comfort and pleasure in their old age than did their own parents before them; and given the pace of inflation, they are just as tempted as the rest of us to live in the present, spending what they have.
A growing number of social changes stand between a child and his inheritance:
Age. Longevity is continuing to increase. The longer a person lives, the more money it takes to support him after his paycheck stops.
Health. Today's older generation can expect to feel better longer than was the case 30 years ago.
Joy of Spending. After a lifetime of paying the mortgage, the college tuition, the orthodontish bills, and the wedding expense, parents thinks it's time they lived a little for themselves.
Remarriage. Many adult children go up the wall when a parent marries a younger spouse. Even mom might marry a floozy (assuming that word is as good for a younger man as it is for a woman). The children's anger is generally financial rather than familial.
The 15th century Florentine, Machiavelli, wrote that, "Men more easily forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony." That's a harsh judgment, but often true.Maybe if kids took a hard look at the realities of later life today, they'd quit expecting a patrimony, which should make them more tolerant of their older parent's pleasures and pastimes. It would also make parents feel less guity about spending all their money on themselves.