So you took that lavish vacation--around the world in 90 days. Or you've remarried and are indulging your new spouse with a luxury condo or cash or other valuables. A recent piece in Money magazine looked at the issue from the grown child's point of view: What to do if your elderly dad showers a new girlfriend with diamonds or good-old mom maintains an expensive membership to a country club she can't afford and never goes to. Last fall I blogged about a divorced friend whose children wanted her to save some money for them because their father, recently remarried and a man of some wealth, was "spending it all" on the new wife.
We can be a source of aggravation, especially to the grown child who's worried about buying his first home or paying his college debts. He may be wondering whether he can count on a legacy from us. She may even think she can stop our free-spending ways by asking us to "grow up."
What Tyler Cowen, a professor economics at George Mason University and the author of the Money article, suggests is that these grown children take note of a classic paper called "The Strategic Bequest Motive." What they'll learn there: Time is money. That is, we parents of adult children want something in return for a bequest. Specifically, Cowen writes, "studies show that children who frequently call and visit their elderly parents tend to inherit larger amounts than those who don't." Taking that a step further, Cowen recommends that the best way to stop us from frittering away their legacy is for them to shower us with love and attention. "Whether consciously or not, they [Reader: That's us.] will treat their money more carefully because they'll want to leave it to you."
I have a different take on the bequest outcome. Perhaps the care and attention translates into a larger legacy because the love and affection already infuses the relationship--even if the patriarch or matriarch is enjoying a childish spending spree.
The authors of the original paper must have had their misgivings about false pledges of love and devotion. A quick check with the paper shows the authors give space up front and on the first page to a quote from King Lear:
Tell me, my daughter
(since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state),
Which of you shall we say doth love us most,
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge.
Frankly, we should all have a conversation with our grown children about legacies--what they can and cannot or should not expect. We can only hope the strategic bequest--or the need for it--never comes up. RIP King Lear--and Will Shakespeare as well.