Opinion: Baby boomers to their children: You’ll inherit the wind

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The baby boomers’ parents are the Greatest Generation.

Baby boomers themselves, apparently, will be defined by a different phrase: ‘You can’t take it with you.’

The Times’ headline Monday says it all: ‘Many baby boomers don’t plan to leave their children an inheritance.’


Well, you can’t spell ‘boomer’ without ‘me.’

The story quoted one Carol Willison, 60, of Seattle:

‘My goal is when they carry me away in that box that my bank account is going to say zero. I’m going to spoil myself now.’

To be fair, the story points out that Willison and her husband did pay their two daughters’ college tuition and most of the older one’s medical school tuition.

As Willison says:

‘I’ve given them a terrific foundation in life. I’ve helped launch them with their education and their careers. If they can’t make it on their own now, they can never make it. I’ve done my job. Now I’m going to enjoy life.’

Still, you have to admit it’s a long fall from JFK’s stirring ‘Ask not what your country can do for you’ sentiment to this quote later in the story:

‘I do not see my baby boomer clients giving up a vacation or wine or dinners out so that they can leave more money to their children, because they feel like they’ve already done it for their kids,’ said Susan Colpitts, executive vice president of a wealth management firm in Norfolk, Va. ‘They say, ‘If there’s something at the end I’d love [the kids] to have it, but what’s important for me now is to get what I’ve earned, which is to travel and have a nice bottle of wine,’’ Colpitts said.

Maybe it could be a new reality show.

Host: What will it be, Boomer No. 1: A little extra cash for the kids, or a bottle of Chardonnay on the terrace of a villa in the Loire?


Boomer: Ah, gee, Alex, I’m gonna have to go with Door No. 2.

For deeper insight, though, the story also casts some doubt on the parenting ability of boomers. In fact, some sharp TV screenwriter should remake ‘Father Knows Best’ and call it ‘Father Isn’t So Sure.’ As the story says:

Some worry that their kids will squander inheritance money or develop a sense of entitlement. One-quarter of boomers worry that their children will become lazy and 1 in 5 fear that the kids will squander the money, according to the U.S. Trust survey. More than half the respondents haven’t told their children how much they’re worth.

So, it’s not really that baby boomers are cheap. They’re realists. They’ve done an iffy job of parenting, but there’s no sense throwing good money after bad. Cut your losses and move on.

Finally, though, there’s also this hard reality:

Many boomers already are giving the equivalent of an inheritance, except they’re doling out the cash while they’re still alive, said Ken Dychtwald, chief executive of research firm Age Wave. They’re supporting elderly parents, adult children or other family members who are suffering professional or financial woes. ‘How can you say no when a child asks ask for a down payment for a house or money to remodel their house to have a bedroom for a second child?’ Dychtwald said. ‘A lot of boomers are finding that family members are taking cash advances on those inheritances right now.’

Ah, the old ‘that’s not your father, that’s a human ATM machine’ dodge, eh?

Really, this is one of those ‘boy, I’d like to have that problem’ stories. Many more people in the country right now are worried more about paying this month’s bills than about spoiling their kids with a big inheritance.

And even well-off baby boomers are concerned about the rising cost of healthcare and the like.


So let’s not be too hard on the boomers. After all, it’s not like they’ve bankrupted the country, right?


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--Paul Whitefield