Inheritance: Is It a Burden, Barrier, or Benefit?

The only thing she had left of him was his estate. If she lost that, she would lose him.

It became obvious in our first conversation that she wasn’t here to talk to me about stocks, bonds, houses, buildings, businesses, or timberland. She had inherited all of that from her father. 

From a purely financial perspective, one may have thought she now had it easy. It was certainly more money than she could ever spend. But far from feeling relief, she felt a burden she could barely express.

“Dad always took care of all this, but now that he is gone, what am I supposed to do with it? I just wish I knew what he would want me to do…”

Inheritances can be a benefit, a barrier, or a burden. The thing to remember is that an inheritance, as with most any windfall of wealth, does not create anything new…it simply magnifies what is already present. 

Inheritance as a benefit. An inheritance can make a good life better. If the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of “a good life” is money or other forms of wealth, you probably don’t have a good life. 

A good life is one filled with purpose, aligned with one’s priorities, rich in relationships, loved by a few and confident on one’s direction. That’s a pretty idealistic list and all of us fall short in each area. 

But the addition of $10,000, $100,000 or even $1,000,000 won’t fundamentally improve anything on the above list. It could make some of these things worse, as your focus shifts from people to money. 

Or it could make what is already good, better, by supplying the material resources to live out the purpose, priorities, and relationships with greater freedom and generosity. 

Inheritance as a barrier. An inheritance can make a bad life worse. I see it all the time. Sometimes the need to hold down a job so that one can earn an income is one of the few positive guardrails in one’s life. Take away the need for that structure of work and some people fall apart. They have no purpose higher than their own pleasure, no priorities other than their own entertainment, no relationships beyond those that serve their interests, no love outside of the love of self. 

In this instance, the lazy person gets lazier and the selfish person gets more selfish. Money has simply given this person the weapon he needs to express his true self. 

The inheritance is actually a barrier to personal growth.

Inheritance as a burden. An inheritance can make an insecure life less secure. Some of us just seem to have arrived on the scene feeling guilty. Was it nature or nurture – no one will ever know. But we are plagued by a sense that somehow we’ve done something wrong…or we’re about to.

When this person inherits a large sum, as in the case of the woman above, it can offer a megaphone to our guilty feelings. 

Like the son who grows up be a man, but continually hears the voice of his father saying, “Whatever you do, don’t strike out! You know how you always strike out! Well, don’t do it! Don’t strike out!”

And three lethargic whiffs of a bat later, the disheartened son strikes out…fulfilling his father’s prophetic utterance over him. 

If the thought of inheriting money terrifies you, you may be hearing voices (literally or figuratively) saying, “Don’t strike out with this money!”

And the more vague the feeling of guilt, doom, or incompetence, the more difficult it is to shake it. After all, when you don’t know how success and failure are being defined, it’s impossible to know if you’re doing well or not. 

To be sure, an inheritance should be a benefit to an heir. Ideally, it is another in a long line of gifts and acts of love passed over a lifetime from a parent to a child. 

If you’re alive and reading this, you’ll one day leave an inheritance…and some of it may involve money.

Give careful thought as to how what you leave behind is a benefit, not a barrier or a burden.

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