August 30, 2022

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My Conversations With Offspring Who Want Money from Me

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Going to one’s parents for money is a time-honored tradition. Had money existed in the time of Adam and Eve, both Cain and Abel would have at some point been at their parents' door looking for a little financial help.

I did it. Financial help from my parents while they were alive got me over several rough spots. What they didn’t give away they put in the stock market and when they died, they left their nest egg to their children. My portion of that inheritance went into an index fund and grew as index funds do into my own nest egg. I am ever so thankful.

Mid-life giving

I am old.

When I was younger, I gave money to my children to launch them into adulthood and told myself that when they all owned their own houses, my parenting days would be over. That was almost true, but then came grandchildren, and, once they realized how useful money could be, they circled my bank account like vultures much as their parents had done before them.

Requests for money when I was in middle age were always about needs or rewards. A child, or close relative, a distant relative, or an acquaintance of a distant relative who was in need and was about to suffer dire consequences if not blessed with an infusion of cash, would ask me to part with some of my money — which it was clear I didn’t need — to resolve the crisis. With some of my kin, these crises were frequent and predictable.

Other times, the relative was not in need but came seeking a reward for exemplary achievement. The child or other person with a claim on my affections had excelled in some endeavor and thereby earned a chance to study abroad or ride in a dirigible. They would ask me to shoulder some of the cost of that opportunity as a way of recognizing and rewarding the achievement.

For decades, these conversations were all about younger people’s needs and rewards. Then I got old, and it all changed. It became about what I needed and how I ought to be rewarded.

The new Give-Me-Some-Money Paradigm

Now that I have dentures and a hearing aid, the requests for money are not based on what the child needs or deserves, but on my well-being. My family is no less craven than others, but few of them are so lacking in self-esteem that they will boldly approach geriatrics like me seeking money for themselves. Instead, the requests are couched in descriptions of the many ways in which giving away my money — to them — will benefit me.

This is a welcome turn of events. I am as self-centered as any of my descendants (where do you think it came from?) and the only thing I really want to know about most financial transactions is what’s in it for me. The twenty-two-year-old car salesperson at the Toyota dealership knows this. I’m not sure why it took my children so long.

Now that my needs and my rewards have taken center stage, I like these o-so-serious-heart-to-heart talks much more than I used to.

“You need to put my name on the house.”

This is a classic. It never goes away. It sounds so innocuous, almost like a yard sign or a welcome mat. “Just put my name on the house. “

I am told with great seriousness that I face a financial donnybrook if I die and my estate goes through probate. All my money will be stolen by lawyers, government bureaucrats, and the tax man. The key to avoiding this disaster is to die with no money, and the key to dying broke is to give it all to my loving relatives while I still can. This is what all clever elders do.

The first step in this plan is to change the deed on my house so that the child in front of me — the one breathlessly concerned about rescuing me from the clutches of lawyers and similar evil-doers — now owns my house with me. Brilliant, eh? If I give my property away today, it can’t be stolen from me tomorrow.

“What if I want to sell the house?” I ask, “Wouldn’t I then need your permission to do so?” I am assured that such permission would be forthcoming, but I’ve been around enough not to believe it. “What if you die before I do? Does your wife, or child, or somebody else end up owning part of my house?”

“That won’t happen.”

“So what happens to my will? In my will, I am leaving all my property to the people who are nice to me in my final years. If I give you a sizeable portion of my property — my house — today, it would defeat the plan set out in my will and you might lose your motivation to suck up to me when I am even older than I am now.”

They assure me that even if I were to put their name on my house, they would continue to suck up to me because I am such a nice guy. The part about me being a nice guy shows they are willing to lie to advance their schemes.

“Well, to make me comfortable,” I suggest, “could we put my name on the deed to your house as well? In case you die first, and, you know, to make it all equal.”

I drag out these conversations until they lose patience and decide to take their chances with the will.

“You buy me this house I have my eye on, I pay you monthly, and you live off the payments.”

This is popular among my kin with suspect credit and treats me as if I am more trusting than a commercial mortgage company, which I am not.

“My money in the index fund brings in about seven percent. Does that interest rate sound good to you?”

If that doesn’t end the conversation, I move to, “So if I buy that house and you die the next day, how do I get my money? Am I stuck with the house? Do I have to hire a lawyer and go through months of foreclosure proceedings during which time I have no income? Then sell the house and hope I recoup the cost?”

“We should have a joint bank account filled with your money.”

In this one, the disaster is not probate or the tax man, but the looming danger that I die and while my estate is being prepared for administration, my water and electric bill might not get paid. The utility company would cut off water and electricity to my house and as a result, all my houseplants would die.

The defense against this disaster is once again to put the helpful relative’s name on — not my house this time — but my financial accounts.

I know that putting her name on an account — making her a co-owner — would give her unrestricted access to all the money in the account, a right of withdrawal that could be exercised at any time and in any amount.

I respond to this one, “And perhaps I could have my name on your accounts, in case you die before I do. I can pay your bills when you are gone, and until then, I can watch your bank statements to monitor your spending.”

“But I’m not old,” she says. “If I die before you, just have my name taken off the account.”

“Have you ever tried to get a bank to remove a name from an account?

“No. Is that hard?”

I ask, “If I die, couldn’t you just pay that electric bill out of your own account and then get reimbursed when my estate is administered?”

“Well, that might work too. I guess.”

But I do not want them to quit trying

I do encourage my relatives to keep asking. Who knows? Maybe I will be convinced. It could happen. I only ask one thing: that when they come over to present these plans that they bring a casserole. I love casseroles. Or at the very least, bring some snacks.

I like to eat during these conversations, and like any parent or grandparent, I really enjoy eating food paid for by my offspring.

As a bit of encouragement in this direction, I have tried to let my entire family know there is a little something in my will about people who bring me casseroles.

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