Most of us leave a little something behind when we die.
The important thing is that we leave love and peace, and, if we have children, that we leave caring, capable human beings that we did our best for.
As for the worldly stuff. Well, as a rule, I suppose we divide it up between our loved ones. For most of us it’s a house and some savings, and maybe some bits of jewelry, silver or art, perhaps just favourite bits and bobs of no monetary worth but some sentimental value.
By the time most wills have gone through probate and the tax man’s had his share, once the rest is divvied up it’s pretty rare for any individual to receive life-changing amounts of hard cash. If it’s family, most of us are lucky enough to keep our parents well into our own middle years, and with good geriatric care being so expensive there’s rarely much left in the kitty. Besides, I’m all for those close to me spending whatever they’ve got before they go peacefully in their sleep.
I was reading an article in the Sunday papers about John Roberts, who recently sold his company Appliances Online (although why the contents of the piece were considered newsworthy I’m not entirely sure). Anyway, the point was that, like Bill Gates, Roberts has decided not to leave his fortune to his children when he dies. He has five of them, and they would stand to inherit a decent chunk of change.
Roberts claimed that he didn’t want trust fund kids who sit on their hands feeling entitled, and he wanted them to grow up with a sense of achievement.
Well, I suppose that’s fine. And, let’s be fair to the man, we all have to raise our children as we see fit, and he clearly wants to do the best he can for his little brood. Good man.
On the other hand, I wonder at the sense of this. And, I suppose that applies even more in the case of Bill Gates.
The children of these men, whether they inherit or not, will always be the sons and daughters of wealthy successful fathers. For good or ill, that, surely, is going to have a much bigger impact on their lives than picking up a fat cheque in their fifties.
Their lifestyles are going to be determined, to some degree, by their parents’ wealth and status, so are their educations and opportunities. You can’t go through life being Bill Gates’s child and that not have an impact. His children are not treated like other children, no matter what he chooses to believe.
It isn’t an inheritance that makes a difference in their lives it is him; it is his presence, his status, his wealth, his fame, his influence. It is all of these things. Of course, it is his personality, too, and his capacity as a father to love and care for his children, and I’m certainly not going to question those things. Bill and Melinda Gates have given more than $28 billion to charity, so it's pretty difficult to fault their good intentions.
John Roberts wants his children to grow up with a sense of achievement, as he did. Having money doesn’t alter something like that. It’s about his attitude to them. It’s about his values, how he nurtures his children, and it’s about their temperaments. If his kids happen to have his characteristics, some of which he will have passed to them through his genes, they might be as hard working or ambitious as he is, they might be risk takers, they might be achievers. Who knows? Having money, or not, won’t alter that. Furthermore, he can’t recreate the conditions he grew up in in order to generate something in his children, some outcome. Life isn’t like that.
Bill Gates and John Roberts can do whatever they please with their money, but I think there are much more important legacies to think about when it comes to their children, and I’m willing to bet they don’t think twice about spending money on the things that some parents have to struggle with. They don’t think twice about the roofs over their kids’ heads, or about the quality of their diet. I bet they don’t give a second thought to the cost of their kids’ dental work, opticians or school shoes, let alone their educations.
Insisting it’s a good idea for your child to have a paper route isn’t the same thing as it having to work to help make ends meet.
Money makes a difference to their children now, whether they leave it to them or not, and, I’m guessing that if their children trip and fall, and they need financial help in the future that they’ll find their pockets are probably deeper than they thought.
It’s easy to deny the importance of money when you have it, but sometimes charity does begin at home.