So, let me ask you directly: Have you decided what assets you will leave to those you love? Is it money, or fame, or property, or gold, or diamonds, or a yacht, or priceless works of art, or stocks and bonds, or investments, or other aspects of wealth? Have you worked feverishly for decades to provide for those who haven’t earned what you’ll give them? Do you want to remove all the challenges and lessons that would otherwise help them to succeed? What will be the net effect of your financial gifts in years to come?It is a moot question for most people, because they will never be able to pass along large estates to their children and grand- children. Just getting by has been a struggle, especially in this economy. However, if parents do have significant assets to leave behind, research indicates that giving abundantly to offspring is risky business, although very few people seem to believe it.
I have in my library a book titled Rich Kids, by sociologist John Sedgwick. He reports a sociological study of young men and women who inherit large estates. The findings are striking and they are not good. The case studies presented indicate that those who come into wealth often fall prey to many temptations. They are more likely to become alcoholics, philanderers, gamblers, or at best, self-possessed and selfish people. The very characteristics that made their parents and grandparents successful, notably hard work, frugality, wise investments, and careful planning, are often diminished in the next generation. This isn’t always true, of course, but it certainly can be.
Human history also confirms the dangerous influence of money. Men and women have lusted for it, killed for it, died for it, and gone to hell for it. Money has come between the best of friends and brought down the proud and mighty. Even more important is what riches can do to the relationships between husbands and wives. If money is inherited by a woman, for example, her husband can lose his motivation to provide and care for her. She doesn’t need him as she did when they married. You may not agree with this, but I can tell you as a psychologist that it is true. A man’s masculinity can be assaulted by becoming unnecessary at home.
Shirley and I have been married for fifty-four years, and one of my greatest satisfactions in living has been the privilege of caring for, supporting, and “being there” for this lady since we were young. I enjoy her dependence on me and I’m also dependent on her in different but important ways. One reason our bond has been so strong is because we need each other emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Remember the popular song whose lyrics proclaim, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” I am the one who has been blessed by having a good woman to go through life with.
It’s also been my observation that nothing will divide siblings and make them combatants more quickly than a sudden infusion of money. Giving them a large inheritance increases the probability of tension and disharmony within a family. Sons and daughters often fight like cats and dogs over control of businesses, and they’ll resent those who are designated as decision makers. And heaven help the in-laws who are put in positions of leadership. The green-eyed monsters of jealousy and resentment lurk in the shadows, ever threatening to destroy the closest of relationships.
World-famous British primatologist Jane Goodall produced a video some years ago that documented behavioral characteristics of chimpanzees. The troop lived in relative harmony most of the time. They lounged around grooming one another and watching their babies. Then the researchers dumped a huge pile of bananas in the area. It was like putting a match to gasoline. The chimps instantly became violent and vicious as they fought to get at the fruit. They were biting and screaming at those near the center of the pile. It was quite a spectacle. One large male crammed four bananas into his mouth sideways, distorting his face. Then he ran away carrying about a dozen more. He was followed by three other males who were trying to tear the bananas out of his hands. Clearly, the abundance of fruit had turned the peaceful chimps into warriors.
It is always problematic to apply the findings of animal research to humans, but there are similarities between chimps and people in this instance. What the chimps were displaying has a name. It is called greed, and we have all experienced it. This emotion can turn nice people into those who hate. The Scriptures condemn that behavior. Indeed, one of the Ten Commandments is “Thou shall not covet . . .”
Here’s another question you should consider: Do you as a parent really want to throw a large basket of bananas into the midst of your peaceful family?
I know my views on this subject are unconventional and many of my readers will disagree. I understand their sentiment. One of the reasons people work so hard is so their children won’t have to. They love their kids so much they want to make things easier for them. Even so, giving abundantly to those who haven’t sacrificed and struggled to achieve should be done with the greatest care, forethought, and prayer.
Let me be clear. I am not criticizing those who have been blessed with significant wealth, nor does the Scripture condemn them. Abraham, Lot, David, Solomon, and Boaz all had enormous wealth in their day. However, there are biblical guidelines to be followed. The Apostle Paul has been quoted as saying that money is the root of all evil. It isn’t true. What he actually wrote is this, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many (sorrows)” (1Tim. 6:10).
Here is the crux of the matter: money is power, and power is inherently corrupting. Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That is one of the most astute observations of human nature ever spoken. Those who get their hands on power, especially when they are young and immature, are sometimes destroyed by it.Jesus spoke more about money than any other subject, and most of his teachings came in the form of warnings. He told a rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. Why was He so demanding of this man who was searching for truth? It was because Jesus perceived that money was the young man’s god. He valued it even more than eternal life, and walked away from Jesus very sad (see Luke 18:22–23).
This will sound harsh, but it is what I believe to be true. If you mishandle the transfer of wealth to immature individuals who don’t know how to handle it, you run the risk of damning them eternally. Whether you give them large trust funds or small gifts, you really should teach them how to use those resources wisely while you can. The Lord’s work is usually underfunded, and our obligation is to give sacrificially to programs that feed the poor, care for orphans, teach our students, fund our churches and ministries, and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Giving money lavishly to those who don’t know how to share their possessions is always a mistake.
From Your Legacy: The Greatest Gift, by Dr. James Dobson.
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