In Debt & Waiting for Inheritance: Not a Proud Moment for Boomers

The boomer generation started out so … groovy.

(Thank you to Travis at Enemy of Debt for hosting my post this week about our ongoing struggles with house-cleaning. Ugh!)

DH = Dear husband

A boomer trend: waiting

Les Kotzer is a Toronto lawyer, and when a woman in a fur coat came into his office with her well-dressed husband, his automatic impression was that the two – both in their late 50s – were well off. After finding out that the fur-clad woman was a substitute teacher, he asked her husband about his profession. “Harry’s not going to tell you this, but he’s a waiter,” answered his wife. When Kotzer asked at which restaurant he worked, she corrected his misconception. “Oh, Harry’s not that kind of a waiter. He’s waiting for his inheritance.”

I was fascinated in a morbid sort of way by the cover story of Maclean’s magazine this week. Photos of people not much older than I am, and their happily aging parents, a little younger looking than my mom, brought it close to home. Images of elderly parents, blissfully unaware of their children’s thoughts as they wait not-so-patiently for the transfer of wealth that will happen when mom and dad pass on.

Boomers’ impact over the decades

Hippies

The boomers have always been just ahead of me as a generation. I have childhood memories of going downtown with my family and seeing hippies. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. Young men with long hair. Young women with flowing skirts. Tie-dyed t-shirts, head bands. They clustered together in public spaces outside with a peaceful defiance and were, in my eyes, groovy.

Yuppies

As I approached my twenties, the boomers were redefining adulthood with their yuppy culture. Images in ads of the well-dressed, high-living, glamorous yuppy captured my imagination. The lifestyle of my parents, in comparison, seemed flat, dull, deprived. I had some awareness of the influence of ads at that time, but little awareness of how profoundly I personally was being influenced. I wanted what those yuppies had. The clothes, the big house, the travel, the fine-dining … My loftier plans to end poverty and generally save the world were rather stifled by the needs of my less acknowledged ambition to yuppify.

“Waiters”

And we all know where that got me: in debt. What I didn’t quite grasp before reading this article in Maclean’s was that I’m sharing my plight with my role models. But I sure don’t want to share in the coping strategy that many boomers seem to be using to deal with their debt problem. 50% of Canadians nearing retirement expect to carry their mortgage debt into their retirement, and there is no shortage of consumer debt among them either.  “. . . [T]he average person aged 56-65 is carrying $27,000 in consumer debt, such as credit cards and car loans. They’re going to need cash to maintain their standard of living, say experts, and their desperation is starting to show. Court files are replete with challenges to wills involving claimants nearing retirement age, while the sheer nastiness of family battles is on the rise. ‘There is a degree of entitlement there,’ says Megan Connolly, a Toronto wills and estates specialist. “It’s this attitude that . . . what’s my mom’s is mine.'”

Guarding against a bad trend

It’s a sad closing chapter for a generation that started out so cool. Of course not all boomers are in this situation, but the trend is disturbing to say the least – something to watch out for. Have I ever thought about a future inheritance in a way that shows I’m relying upon it? I would have to say that I have. In our worst years of job loss, career uncertainty, and financial stress, my future inheritance had the comforting promise of a safety net. Nothing in line with the nastiness described in the Maclean’s article, but something to take note of nonetheless.

When DH and I started our journey out of debt, mom was rendered speechless by our total of $257,000 in the red, and she thought debt-repayment for us was a hopeless goal. “Just wait,” she once said during the early days of our journey, in the sense that it wouldn’t be so hopeless one day. I knew exactly what she meant. My mother is at perfect peace with her own mortality, and she’ll occasionally refer to it. But after almost three years, DH and I are nearing the half-way point, and mom, who never fails to ask, “So how’s the debt?” is impressed.

“I want you to stay alive,” I said to her recently, in a rare burst of frankness on this sensitive topic. “I want you to be there when we make our last payment. When we become debt-free.” “Well!” said my mom, her voice charged with new optimism. “That’s something that’s worth living for.”


Gillis, Charlie. “The Inheritance Wars.” Macleansca. Roger’s Publishing Ltd, 09 Mar. 2015. Web. 14 Mar. 2015. <http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/the-inheritance-wars/>.


What do you think of the “waiting” trend? Your comments are welcome.

 

 

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27 CommentsLeave a comment

  • What a nice story. Well, your part of it anyway. I have a very interesting dynamic in my family. My sisters and brother are eagerly awaiting an inheritance, but they have no idea what’s in the will. My mom made it, left them out of it, and made me keep the original. That should be an interesting time. She does love drama, even in the great hereafter. As for me, I’m not much of a waiter (or waitress). Whatever. I witnessed those same hippies when I was a kid. The original vandwellers in their VW buses. Full circle anyone? 🙂

    • Yikes! I think that you are going to bear the brunt of that drama – though you don’t seem to be concerned about it. There must have been some significant drama on the part of a few people for your mom to have made that decision.
      As for hippies, you do seem to be following in their footsteps a bit! That makes you groovy too : )

      • I totally DIG that graphic up there! 🙂
        The reason I’m not concerned is that my mom is a loose cannon. Who knows when she’ll change the will again. She may not tell me. Hey, maybe we ALL have a will that only names our self in it. Oh, she’d enjoy the thought of those fireworks. I’m just not concerned. I can’t be ruled by future “what ifs”, but I’ve seen time and time again what happens when the vultures start to circling the dearly departed. I’m not interested in that drama. I’m more of a sitcom kind of gal! 😀

        • I’m thinking of legal action that might be taken. In the Maclean’s article, there was an example of such action when a couple wrote their son out of the will. The woman, once she was widowed, reinforced the will by including a sealed letter with it to be opened in the event that her son made a legal challenge to the inheritance going to his sister. He did make the challenge, the letter was opened, and the judge threw out the case. (The son is still trying though.)

  • I’m a long ways off of waiting for an inheritance (not that I would be). My husband and I are very self reliant and don’t expect to receive one. I have seen first hand how families can be ripped apart over it and it is such as sad thing to see.

    • Thanks, Tennille. I have seen only one really ugly case of an family estate battle, and there was no love between brother and sister to begin with. He was a bully beforehand, so it wasn’t surprising when he was a bully afterwards. You’ve got the right attitude: Don’t even expect to receive an inheritance.

  • Yeah I’ll have no inheritance. Even if my parents were crazy wealthy the way we were raised I don’t know that we would have expected it. I’m glad you’re doing this debt thing on your own!

    • The article from Maclean’s that inspired this post states, “On average, Canadians overestimate how much they’ll inherit by about 50 per cent.” You are very wise not to expect an inheritance at all. What this article makes clear is that not only are many people expecting one, they’ve counted on it and have planned around it. Not wise and not admirable. Thanks for your comment, Ms. Frugality!

      • Well, my parent’s situation makes the guess work a little easier so I don’t deserve to many accolades. :p But I’m seriously impressed that you’re doing this on your own. Those are some scary numbers. The money doesn’t replace the hole in your heart, and I think it’s kind of sick that people look forward to the death of a parent for cash. When yours does come, I’m sure both you and your mother will be so much more at peace having it as excess rather than a lifeline.

        • You say, “When yours does come …” but there is no guarantee that mine will come either. I’m at peace knowing it won’t be necessary : )

  • I am in a similar situation like Kay but I don’t want anything to do with my inheritance. I am sure that I won’t need it and that makes me feel good inside. I plan on just sitting back and watching the fight. There’s great joy in me knowing that I am on the path to building my own wealth.

    • Yikes! I don’t envy you and Kay. I don’t know how it would be possible to “sit back” while watching that kind of fight. It’s fabulous, though, that you’re setting yourself up not to need an inheritance at all. Keep on feeling that joy! Thanks for your comment, Petrish.

  • I think this waiting trend will only cause havoc in the future. People will rack up more debt because they think they will inherit a big chunk of money to be able to pay off their debt. Don’t spend what you don’t have now.

    • Amen to that. And people who aren’t good with their finances before they actually receive those “big chunks of money” don’t suddenly become experts on financial management if and when they do. Thanks for your comment, Tawcan.

  • I expect nothing from my parents or pretty much anyone else for that matter. I’d rather be out there making my own magic than morbidly waiting around to collect the life savings on someone else.

    • Good word for it, MMD. “Waiting” IS a morbid trend. All the best as you make your own magic! Thanks for stopping by to comment.

  • Oof, that’s a dizzying graphic!

    I think being a waiter (of inheritance) is a pretty weird concept in general. It denotes bad planning, obviously, but it’s also just… creepy.

    Unless you truly don’t like your parents, you’re banking on them dying. Even if I wanted to live that way, people in my family are pretty long-lived. My great-grandmother passed away a few years ago in her 90s. My great-aunt finally lost to cancer about 5 years after the doctors gave her 6 months. She was in her late 80s, I believe.

    But I don’t want to live that way because… ugh. Mom and I joke that she can’t die for 150 years. I told her that I want any potential grandkids to inherit, not me. Because I’d rather have her around.

    Unfortunately, I know she’ll break our deal despite her best efforts. And I know that her insurance policy is make our lives easier to be sure. But it’s one of the worst ways I can think of to get rich. Or, to be more correct, very comfortable.

    • I can’t look at that graphic for too long either : )
      MMD (comment above) used the word “morbid’ to describe this trend, and you’ve used “creepy”. Both pretty accurate. It sounds like you have a lovely relationship with your mom, and while part of that loveliness is certainly expressed in her desire to leave you with something, I think the bigger part of it is expressed in your deal. May both of our moms reach 150!

  • Wow, that’s horrifying! I don’t believe in this waiting system. First, because it’s gross, secondly, I don’t think my parents would have money for me to inherit. And if they did, I’d be focused on the sadness of their passing, not if I got an inheritance.

    • It is definitely “horrifying” and “gross”. Yet it’s common. The “waiting” trend does not say much for humanity, does it? So much better to have your attitude and not expect anything. Thanks for your comment, Melanie.

  • So I’ll admit that I have thought about my potential inheritance — I may or may not actually get one, because it’ll all depend on how long my parents live and how much care they end up needing. As of this moment the odds are, however, that I’ll end up with something substantial, not enough to just take off for Hawaii permanently, but enough to make a difference to my retirement prospects. (This is primarily because the house is worth quite a bit due to some good location luck.)

    BUT I think it is absolutely gross to COUNT on that. I’ve told my parents a dozen times that I don’t care about an inheritance, I want them to be happy and use all the money. And if that happens, it’ll be just fine; I should have enough of my own to figure things out. I wish they’d live to be 200 years old, you know?

    • There is nothing wrong with thinking of your potential inheritance, but you are wise to recognize that there is no guarantee – and even wiser to determine that you’ll set yourself up to “figure things out” on your own. I think that some parents would be relieved to know their kids give them “permission” not to worry about leaving an inheritance. SO much better than having the impression the loved ones are “waiting”. Thanks for your comment, C.

  • What a great post. My mom definitely fell into the trap of waiting for some money from my grandpa, and well, it’s a long story but things did not turn out the way she planned them. It was devastating for me to watch, as so many of her plans were tied to this. Oh well. you live and you learn, and life surprises you and you have to be ready to roll with it.

    • Yikes! That’s not a pretty story. Does your mom feel bitter about this? Or does she feel she was wrong to have counted on so much? Tricky position for you, but great that you’ve taken the attitude that you’ll learn from it and move forward in a different way from what you’ve witnessed. I really appreciate your comment, Chela.

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