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The Psychological Dynamics of Inherited Wealth

Oct 12, 2007
When people inherit money, they face unique challenges. These challenges generally come under two distinct categories: financial and emotional. On the financial side, the inheritor must learn how to preserve and grow his or her wealth. On the emotional side, the inheritor must learn how to keep his or her life on track, deal with friends and family's reactions to the inheritance and manage with the impact of money on one's life. Inheriting money is often a mixed blessing, but with good support and consultation, inheritors can create a workable and balanced approach: being smart about the money while good care of themselves.

Jim grew up as an only child in a wealthy family. On his father's side, the family had been landowners in California's Sacramento Valley for four generations. The family had multiple real estate holdings throughout Northern California. Jim's father was an influential attorney. He represented wealthy, landed interests in his community. The expectations of Jim's family were that Jim would either go into law or business and take control of the family's holdings.

There was only one problem with this well laid plan for Jim's life. That problem was with Jim. His interests were not with the family business at all. As a teenager, Jim discovered that he had a gift for music. He started with the piano at age 12, and he never looked back. He devoted himself to the piano, to singing, songwriting and to performing. When he finished high school, Jim moved to Los Angeles, and began a career in music.

Jim's dad was not happy with this turn of events. Not only did he think his son's choice of career was trivial, he considered it a slap in the face that his oldest son would turn away from the family business. They fought about it frequently. The rift between them only deepened when at age 25, Jim came out to his father and introduced his male partner to the family.

The bulk of the family money was in a trust created by Jim's grandfather many years ago. At age 25, Jim came into a large inheritance per the terms of the trust. At this point, Jim called on a consultant to help him deal with his relationship with his Dad. Jim asked that his father attend the consultation, but he declined, so Jim came to the consultant on his own. His goals for consultation were to:

1) Sort through his own feelings about his relationship with his father.

2) Work through a negative self-image and low self-esteem that had developed in relation to his Dad.

3) Work through his feelings about his inheritance and his new status as a "moneyed" person.

4) Invest his newly inherited money wisely.

5) Become better informed about how to deal with money.

The consultation began with the psychological issues.
They worked on Jim's relationship with his dad. Jim developed new insights and understandings about his Dad. He came to understand some of the pressures his Dad was under and developed a more compassionate understanding of his Dad and his Dad's approach to money.

The next step was working on Jim's relationship to himself. Jim found that he had internalized a lot of his father's negativity about who he is in the world. While the father considered music a frivolous pursuit, Jim learned how to deeply value his own commitment to music. While his father was prejudiced and closed minded about Jim being gay, Jim learned to see himself in a healthy and positive light. Learning to separate his father's attitudes from how he sees himself helped Jim to feel more comfortable in his own skin.

Having sorted through many of the relationship dynamics with his Dad, dealing with the money issues became much less loaded for Jim. He started with unpacking the meaning in his life of having this family money handed down to him. While at first it had felt like a terrible weight and burden, he began to really think about how the money could support him in developing himself further and in living more authentically. He decided to invest in himself by going back to school for a degree in music composition. He also sorted through some issues with his partner Dan, explaining to Dan that he was not going to support him financially even though he now had the means to do so. Although this was rocky going for a time in the relationship, they sorted the financial issues in the relationship out in a way that felt good to both of them.

The next issue he dealt with in consultation was implementing a financial plan. Now that Jim was responsible for a large sum of money, he worked out an asset allocation with his financial advisor that was designed for both growth and income. His financial planner helped him find a CPA who helped him reduce his taxes. He met with an estate-planning attorney who helped Jim deal with plans for his estate and leaving a bequest for Dan.

Jim succeeded in using his inheritance to create a more balanced and rich life for himself. He did this by taking the inheritance issues seriously, and tackling head on both the psychological and financial issues involved. He now feels that the inheritance was more than just a financial gift, it also provided a catalyst to help him grow and develop himself in many ways.
About the Author
Peter Cole ChFC, LCSW, Holistic financial planning. Author: True Self True Wealth. Peter Cole is a representative of Securities America, a registered Broker/Dealer member FINRA/SIPC and Securities America Advisors an SEC registered investment advisor. FREE newsletter at http://www.trueselftruewealth.com
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