My dad is in his 80s now, and when we talk, the conversation sometimes turns to topics of property, wills and inheritances.
I hope I’ve made my own position on these issues clear. My parents raised my four brothers and me. They fed, clothed and cared for us. They did their best to teach us right from wrong, until we each, in turn, turned 18. Honestly, I think that’s all we should expect from them.
But wait. There’s more!
My parents also helped all of us financially through four years of college. To me, that seems like icing on the cake — something that was not required, but which I deeply appreciate, and which gave each of us, separately, a launching pad for life. Thanks in significant part to the help my parents provided early on, their children are now financially secure. In my opinion, none of us need more, and nothing more is owed us.
I also believe that — particularly in a culture where we are relentlessly pushed to believe that our very next purchase will be the one that finally provides contentment — it’s critical to distinguish “want” from “need.” That in a country and culture that thrives on the needless accumulation of material items, most of us have no real need for ever-larger houses or for a king-cab dually 1-ton pickup, and that perhaps the next worse thing after not having enough money may be having too much money.
With these thoughts in mind, I’ve encouraged my dad to consider leaving any possible inheritance to people other than his children. There are all kinds of possibilities. There are the grandchildren, who might be able to use their own launching pad in life. There’s the granddaughter who faces the possibility of overwhelming medical expenses in her future, and who really may need assistance to ensure the best possible quality of life. There’s the soup kitchen at which my dad and stepmother volunteered weekly until the pandemic hit. There are many other groups and charities that represent my folks’ values and interests.
Like so many families, there are other considerations. How will my stepmother be protected if my father passes first? We are a blended family, with stepsiblings, and some of us have received additional financial help at times when we were struggling — should those things be considered in dividing assets?
And there are yet other issues to consider.
Like so many families in America, my family has benefited significantly through generations from government programs that were never equally available to all. My ancestors received government land through the Homestead Act and the Hard Rock Mining Act.
Government assistance helped my grandparents through the Depression. In the same way that other families benefited from the GI Bill, government policies and programs enabled my parents to purchase houses in areas where real estate values would inevitably rise.
Cumulatively through the decades, such programs allowed my family — generation-by-generation and bit-by-bit — to accumulate wealth that benefits us today, most significantly, in the form of education. My grandparents could afford college for both of my parents, enabling them to get better-paying jobs, making it possible for my brothers and me to receive college educations of our own. But such programs were never available on the same basis to all Americans. African Americans and other people of color were routinely excluded from such programs. Where my family was able to accumulate and pass along wealth, particularly in the form of education, many families of color were systematically denied similar opportunities.
History matters. Many people of color are statistically much poorer today than their white counterparts precisely because of such systemic, government-endorsed discrimination.
Does my father have an obligation to acknowledge such inequities by giving at least part of his wealth to groups or programs that might help redress the historical government policies that have unfairly benefited us?
My dad and I can spend a lot of time discussing issues like these.
I always tell him that I’m so glad these are his decisions to make, and not mine.
Anne Morrison is a La Grande resident and retired attorney who has lived in Union County since 2000. Thinking Out Loud is her monthly column for The Observer.