A word that conjures the mental image of a cartoonish ka-boom. A volcanic eruption. High schoolers losing eyebrows to a science experiment gone awry.
The reality can be less dramatic. Much scarier.
It began with an everyday scene. Sitting with the boys at the breakfast. Shovelling Cheerios on autopilot. Them watching television on iPads. Me panning for gold on Sovereign Quest.
My elder son paused his anime to ask “what do you think life inside the singularity would be like?”
Without thinking, I responded “like the comments section on Reddit”.
He tensed up. Opened his mouth to object. Thought it through. Visibly deflated. Returned to his show.
The birds outside fell silent.
A rumbling vibration in the distance. Getting closer.
Ripples appeared on the surface of my orange juice. The aquarium fish vanished out of sight.
Objects toppled. Furniture moved. Doors slammed.
The lazy cat transformed in the blink of an eye. Sound asleep one moment. A blur of motion the next. Breaking the land speed record as she bolted outside into the freezing rain.
Younger son grabbed his iPad. Dived for the bathroom. Lights off, to avoid triggering the exhaust fan.
Elder son sat with his back to the door. Headphones in. Eyes glued to his screen. Oblivious.
I thought about warning him. But he hadn’t done his chores. Again. Devil take the hindmost!
Fight or flight instincts kicking in. I dashed across the kitchen, hoping to circle the incoming danger.
Momentum can be a terrible thing. Socks sliding across the hardwood floor. Arms windmilling. I almost crashed into my lady wife as she stomped down the stairs.
Death stare turned up to 11.
“Oh bollocks” muttered my inner saboteur forlornly. For once I agreed with him. Oh bollocks indeed.
In a spectacular failure to read the signs, the lockdown kitten appeared at that moment to commence his “I’m so cute, feed me!” routine, rubbing a figure-eight pattern around my lady wife’s legs. I almost felt sorry for him. For a supposed apex predator, the lockdown kitten has poorly developed survival skills.
Reminiscent of the final scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, I resignedly took a deep breath and asked the question that all long-married husbands come to dread: “are you ok?”
With a primal force normally reserved for extinction-level asteroid strikes, my lady wife vented her spleen.
The volume and vehemence of her rant caused seismologists on the other side of the planet to take one look at their Richter scales then seek out a change of underwear.
Being on the receiving end felt like I had stuck my head in a blast furnace. Less fun than a retrospective tax change. Odds of survival worse than bungee jumping naked into a woodchipper.
My lady wife had just been talking to her mother, who revealed she was considering making some changes to her legal will. Instead of leaving her estate to her children, who already appeared successful and financially secure, she planned to leave everything to her tribe of school-aged grandchildren.
The money might one day help them with house deposits. University fees. Weddings.
Which to me sounded like a noble goal. Sensible even. Not that I would give voice to such thoughts, certainly not without a helmet and a running start.
What my lady wife had heard was the existentialist threat of being disinherited. Judged unworthy. Plummeting down the leaderboard of her mother’s affections, to rank below her own children.
Our diametrically opposing instinctive reactions to the exact same piece of news were fascinating.
They raised some interesting questions about the concept of inheritance.
A potential windfall gain. Rarely sought. Seldom earned.
Giving rise to a cascade of emotions. Entitlement. Expectation. Fairness. Guilt. Heartbreak. Jealousy. Loneliness. Loss. Resentment.
Dishearteningly often bringing out the worst in people.
Stories are legion of relatives going to war over a loved one’s legacy.
Looting the estate of valuables, before the spoils could be accounted for and distributed.
Lawyers at dawn to contest the legal will. Epic courtroom battles, incurring legal fees that often result in mutually assured destruction or a pyrrhic victory at best.
My view is that a person should be free to do whatever they like with their own estate. Nobody’s business but their own. If they wish to leave it all to their grandkids, pets, or favourite causes then so be it. As a wise old Polish colleague was fond of saying: “not my circus, not my monkey”.
Things get a little complicated in cases where dementia is involved, but that is what power of attorney is for. If a guardian can’t be trusted to do the right thing, they shouldn’t have the job. That said, it has been my life experience that people are savages, particularly when money is involved.
Human nature being what it is, there is often a disconnect between what a beneficiary receives and what they believe they deserve or were entitled to.
I wondered about that sense of entitlement. Do our parents really owe us anything at all?
For good or ill, there is no question that our existence is a consequence of their choices. A deed that once done, can’t be undone. Legally responsible for raising us to adulthood, or until the state decides they are unfit to do so.
Some kids win the ovarian lottery. Others fail to choose their parents very well at all.
Then, one fateful day, we come of age. Adults in our own right. Warranty expired, no refunds. The equal of our parents in the eyes of the law. No better. No worse.
Able to breed. Decide. Fight. Marry. Screw. Study. Travel. Vote. Work. However, whenever, and with whomever we choose for ourselves.
The age that we acquire each of these rights may vary, but as adults we become accountable and responsible for our own choices. Regardless of any excuses that we may choose to hide behind.
Which brings us back to the concept of inheritance. Once we are legal adults, do our parents really owe us anything? Their job is done. Their responsibilities concluded.
Our parents may choose to continue helping us. Supporting us. Provide for us in their will.
But they are under no legal obligation to do so. Morally? Ethically? A question best left to the audience.
Their money is their own. To save, spend, or squander as they see fit.
We may enjoy that support, but should recognise it for what it is. A gift. Not an entitlement. Nor a right.
In the days before COVID, there was a recurring joke amongst my elderly mother’s social circle about going on SKI holidays, which was short for Spending the Kids’ Inheritance. Cruise ships and caravanning odysseys were favoured options, as both catered to old folks with limited mobility.
Over the years I have worked with many people who got royally bent out of shape when their parents “squandered” money on new cars or luxury vacations. Their gripe was that in doing so, the size of the prize they stood to inherit once their parents jet-set no more was reduced.
Several people I know moved home “because our parents are not getting any younger”. A noble sentiment from those who would be assisting their ageing loved one in failing health. Less so for the mercenary few who were simply staking their claim on a future inheritance.
Yet how many of those same people would happily squander the financial life’s work of their parents?
Blow it on a new car? A kitchen renovation? A SKI holiday of their own?
I suspect the answer is more than a few.
However, by that point, the dead are beyond caring. The beneficiaries are free to do as they please, with what is now their money. Hypocrisy swiftly forgotten in the pursuit of status and shiny new toys.
My father would often joke that we should be nice to him or he’d write us out of his will. We would respond that he should be nice to us, because we would be choosing his nursing home!
At least we had thought he was joking. As ever, he got the last word.
Eventually, the tempest blew itself out. My lady wife stomped back upstairs to her eyrie.
I returned to the kitchen, where my elder son was still seated at the breakfast table. Headphones on. Immersed in his cartoons. Seemingly oblivious to the familial discord going on around him.
The lockdown kitten sheepishly emerged from cowering in the laundry basket. The clean sheets I had washed earlier were now decorated with muddy paw prints and damp cat hair. Bastard!
As I was launching into an animated combination of sign language, swear words, and visual aids to explain the error of the lockdown kitten’s ways, my elder son quietly piped up.
“She had already spent it, hadn’t she? From a mental accounting perspective? That is the real reason why she was upset”
It was my turn to tense up. Open my mouth to object. Think it through. Visibly deflate. Then just nod.
His observation was astute and incisive. Not much got past him. The boy was growing up.
My son looked conflicted.
Curious about a potential windfall that until moments ago was a possibility he had never considered.
Disquieted by the notion of a loved one dying.
Desperate to avoid conflict with his mother. An outcome that is rarely forgiven and never forgotten.
I told him not to worry. My mother-in-law was likely to live longer than all of us, if for no other reason than to spite any vultures who may be circling her estate.
Then I cautioned him not to fall into the same trap he had just observed.
His grandmother was far from rich. Even if she followed through with her plan, the estate would be split amongst the whole tribe of grandkids.
Any potential inheritance was nothing more than a figment of the imagination, until such time that it was physically received. At which point it becomes an unexpected windfall. A kind final gift from someone who loved him. Something to be respected, not frittered away on baubles and trophies.
He nodded his head, needing some time to process and think through the morning’s discussion.
Then his face lit up in a mischievous grin. “At least I don’t have to worry about you leaving your money to the cats!”
I followed his gaze to where the lockdown kitten contentedly sat chewing on my phone charger cable. Bastard!
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Campanile Productions
- Sovereign Quest (2021), ‘Sovereign Feed‘