There’s an old Yiddish phrase “un kinder aus yachsen mit bupkes ist immer bupkis!”  (a child from a distinguished heritage with nothing is still nothing). In other words, it doesn’t matter how important or distinguished someone’s lineage is if each generation doesn’t otherwise live up to the family’s standards.

I think about that phrase from time to time when I hear complaints about adult children who haven’t lived up to their parents’ expectations in one way or another. Perhaps they spend too much money relative to what they earn, or they bounce from job to job without advancing their career, or they fail to finish their education.

Oftentimes the complaining parents are quite successful. They might be doctors, lawyers, engineers, business owners or community leaders. Most of the time the patriarch and matriarch themselves arose from modest backgrounds and had to earn and scrape for everything they now enjoy.

Their children, on the other hand, don’t have the same frame of reference. The parents wanted their children to have it much easier than they had, so the children’s lives were easier. The children had more handed to them – they didn’t have to work and earn for everything that they have.

So is it any surprise that the children don’t have the same drive and ambition that their parents had?

Which leads me to today’s estate planning lesson. It’s not uncommon to hear a client say that they don’t want the inheritance to take their children’s drive and ambition away. A trust might be built that provides supplemental income but cannot be used for sole support.

These are all good ideas. But isn’t it a little too late to teach these lessons through a will or trust? The average life span for someone who is currently sixty-something years old is eighty-six.  In other words, today’s sixty year old can expect to live another twenty-six years all things being equal.

If the children are thirty years younger, then they will become trust beneficiaries in their fifties – or maybe even their sixties.  Will an incentive or supplemental needs trust really work to change habits that have been ingrained for several decades by that point?

Somehow the lessons and values that made the parents what they are need to be ingrained at a much earlier age. Anyone with any means struggles with these issues – myself included. I grew up in a very modest setting, and have worked to earn my own way from a very early age.  While I didn’t want my own children to have to work like I did, somewhere there’s a line that one doesn’t want to cross.

I think that it is certainly more difficult today than it was a generation or two ago.  Smart phones, the Internet, Netflix, and many other modern conveniences tend to distract us from having important family dinner discussions.  Travel soccer teams take away time that would otherwise be spent learning morals and values in synagogue or at church.  Two-income households mean that both Mom and Dad are exhausted at the end of the day and don’t have the stamina to oversee homework or to attend school functions.

Somehow we all must work to change this dynamic.

This isn’t to say that all children are on the wrong path and will become irresponsible spendthrifts later in life.  I actually believe quite the contrary. There are a lot of good kids out there who work hard to earn good grades and are quite ambitious.

But there are also many who don’t appreciate what their parents have built for them, and what their parents had to sacrifice to get the family where it currently is. And that, my friends, is not necessarily the kids’ fault.

It’s all of ours.

Hopefully the pendulum will swing back as many realize what’s happening. Until then, I’m afraid there will be many more estate planning discussions centering on how to protect our children from themselves when they inherit the assets that took so long and hard to earn.

© 2020 Craig R. Hersch. Originally published in the Sanibel Island Sun.