A fistful of money

Inheritance: everyone dreams of inheriting oodles of money from a rich aunt or uncle. But what happens when you actually get the money? It might not be everything you wish for.

Marlene Engelhorn is exactly in that position: she inherited a whopping $36.6 million dollar (in Canadian dollars) from her rich grandmother. She should be set for life, right?

Instead, the wealthy heiress is quite unhappy with the princely sum of money.

Inheriting the money was bittersweet for Engelhorn; it’s enough to live on for the rest of her life, but it left the heiress with a nagging feeling in the back of her mind. Engelhorn felt conflicted: “I am only wealthy because I was born in a rich family. And I think in a democratic society of the 21st century, birth should not be the one thing that determines whether or not you’re gonna get to lead a very good life,” Engelhorn was reported as saying.

Engelhorn began a campaign for heavier taxes on the wealthy in Austria; this included campaigning for an inheritance tax. Her pleas to the Austrian government fell on deaf ears; the tax inheritance laws that Engelhorn was hoping for didn’t come to fruition. She has therefore decided to spearhead a grass-roots campaign for heavier taxes to be levied against the wealthy in Austria.

Partnering with the Foresight Institute in Austria, Engelhorn is looking to have a committee of Austrian residents tackle economy inequality by redistributing the €25 million ($36.6 million Cdn) she is generously giving the committee to play with.

How does this work?

Engelhorn and the Foresight Institute invited 10,000 Austrian residents over the age of 16. The number will be whittled down to a lucky 50 residents, who will be randomly selected to form the “Good Council.” These members will decide (over a period of six weekends) as to how the money will be spent.

Engelhorn also continues to work with charitable groups, like Millionaires for Humanity and Tax Me Now.

She continues to lament that “the Austrian system shouldn’t allow her to accumulate so much wealth.” But without any inheritances taxes in sight, Engelhorn is left to her own devices to distribute her own wealth.

Until that changes, Engelhorn plans to give away most of her inheritance.

You can read more, here.

Dog bounding up in the air

Pet care: our furbabys are spoiled. It’s not uncommon for people to spoil their furbabys; Instagram and other social media is littered with videos and pictures of people playing with their beloved Fidos and felines, pampering them, feeding them, and just enjoying their presence. (In fact, pets sometimes get receive better care than other humans.)

Is it any surprise that people want their pets to be taken care of when they die?

There are some people who love their dogs, cat (and by extension, birds and rabbits) more than anything in the world, and have a closer relationship with them over their human counterparts (we’ll get to some real-life examples later.) It’s an increasingly popular trend: leaving behind money and assets for the care of their non-human loved ones. It’s not so far fetched when you consider how much people pamper their dogs and cats already – in fact, it’s a testament to the deep bond people share with their furry companions.

The History of Pet Inheritances

Reasons for this increasing trend

Legal Considerations

Challenges

History of Pet Inheritances

The concept of leaving money or assets to pets isn’t entirely new. In fact, it dates back centuries. Roman Emperor Gaius Caligula, for instance, left behind a substantial inheritance for his beloved horse, Incitatus. His horse was gifted with a complete with a marble stable, fine fodder, and a staff of servants (no word on how long the horse lived after his passing.) Then, there are the myriad of modern day stories: Leona Helmsley, for instance. And the late Karl Lagerfeld has a cat worth over $3 million dollars. The trend has gained momentum in recent years, with many pet owners treating their pets better than their human family members.

Reasons for the Trend

Several factors contribute to the rising popularity of leaving inheritances to pets:

1. Pets are like family (and are treated as such): Pets are often cherished as family members rather than animals (at least for dogs and cats, anyway.) This gives pets a status deserving of consideration in planning for their estate.

2. Concern for Their Well-being: Leaving a financial legacy to their pets ensures that they receive the care and attention they deserve, even in their owner’s absence.

3. No Heirs: People who are either childless or don’t have family members, people keep dogs or cats for company. They become as close to their owners as family. Leaving behind something to take care of their pets is a natural choice.

4. The Growth of Pet-Related Services: The pet industry has exploded in recent years, from pet spas, gourmet pet food, to pet therapists and luxury accommodations. With these services readily available, leaving an inheritance to pets becomes more feasible and practical. It really shows how much people love their pets and would do anything to take care of them.

While the idea of leaving inheritances to pets may be heartwarming, there are legal and practical aspects of these types of arrangements. In many provinces/territories, pets are legally regarded as property rather than as beneficiaries, which can make direct bequests challenging. To be fair, how would you directly pass on wealth to a pet? You would need someone else to look after the pet in question for you. Instead of inserting your wishes into a Will, you might want to look into a Pet Will, which allows you to comprehensively provide details for pet care after your passing.

A Pet Will allows you to legally set aside funds specifically for their pets’ care and designate a trustee responsible for managing the assets on behalf of the pets. Caregivers ensure that the pets receive the necessary care, and detailed instructions cover everything from food to medicine. It also includes any special instructions the pets might require for care.

Challenges and Controversies

Leaving inheritances to a dog or a cat is well-intentioned, but this process has it’s obvious challenges: some family members may dispute these arrangements in court, arguing that the funds should be allocated for human beneficiaries (this was the case for Leona Helmsley), rather than to pet care. There is also the sobering concern people have for their pets: will caregivers maintain care for the pets in question, or just run off with the money they were provided with for the pet’s care? Make sure ALL of your loved ones are taken care, with the right estate planning!

A rendition of the house from Home Alone


Remember the “Home Alone” movie? Of course you do! You probably watched it several times as a kid. You probably watched the movie every Christmas, and have all of the lines memorized. At the very least, you know the name of hero in the movie: Kevin McCallister. The beloved Christmas comedy was released in 1990, and tells the story of Kevin McCallister, the 8-year-old boy who is the black sheep of his family. He’s left behind at home when his family rushes off to Paris for Christmas. If this movie took place in 2023, the mother would be frantically texting her son at home, or searching for him via social media. In any case, Kevin is initially excited to be left alone in a house that looks like a gigantic mansion. Hijinx ensue when two burglars try to rob the place when Kevin is left home alone. The ingenious eight-year-old arms the house with a series of booby traps, turning the house into a formidable fortress.

The biggest question that movie leaves unanswered however, is how did the Kevin’s father afford that giant mansion in the movie? (If you haven’t seen the movie, checkout clips on YouTube to see how massive the “home” is.) The Federal Reserves an answer: Kevin McCallister’s family is part of the one percent of Chicago’s residents (or perhaps mobsters, as some have speculated.)

 The New York Times now has an answer to as the Federal Reserves has determined Kevin MCallister’s family is in the one percent of Chicago residents based on the value of their home.

According to the New York Times: “In 1990, the house was affordable only for the top 1 percent of Chicago household incomes, and that would still be the case today.” For a house as massive as the one in “Home Alone,” The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago estimates that the home would have likely have been affordable with an income of $305,000 in 1990. In today’s terms, that’s roughly about $665,000 as of 2022. ($300k is likely considered chump change for a home today, in certain places.)

Peter and his wife, Kate McCallister would have had to have been earning at least $305,000 annually in 1990 to afford the massive mansion, which sits on the North shore of Chicago.

It is also not cheap to take fifteen family members for a Christmas vacation to Paris. No wonder fans of the beloved movie Fans have constantly speculated on how rich the McCallister family is. The movie, of course, never reveals what his father does for a living (hence the speculation that his father was a mobster in the movie.)

You can read more about the McCallister family here.

A car only rich people could afford

Wealth: we all chase after it. We all want to be debt-free, worry-free, and provide for our family and friends.

People are grappling with high inflation, stagnant wages, skyrocketing housing, and working “side hustles” to pay the bills. Did you know that even wealthy people are feeling this way? In 2023, 59% of what could be described as “affluent” U.S. citizens, feel secure in their assets. Compare this to the whopping 72% of Americans who felt the same, just a year before that, in 2022.

The wealthy are like us: worrying about rampant inflation. They’re not investing, they’re not taking risks with their money: they’re holding on to it, which could be a sign of how shaky the economy is right now.

The wealthy are saddled with substantial debts: they (much like the average joe) is struggling to pay off their mortgages, car loans, and wipe out their credit card balances. Yes, they probably struggle less than the average joe to pay their debts off, but struggling to pay off debts may lead to excessive borrowing. Just like the average joe, the wealthy too, should avoid maintaining credit card debts and pay off loans they have as soon as possible (easier said than done.)

One of the most pressing concerns for wealthy Americans is how much they have saved for retirement. Not just retirement, but their overall estate planning, which includes: paying taxes, paying off loans, ensuring that you have good life insurance, managing issues surrounding health, etc.

These are all things that people across every generation should think about, even cash-strapped Millennials and GenZ.

Taxes are going to become a concern heading into 2024: many taxes could increase in U.S. households. There are a number of taxes from 2016 that are set to expire in 2026. This means that taxes would increase for a number of families. Getting creative with estate planning is the answer.

One way to get around these tax cuts is to gift large trusts to children and other family members.

Hopefully, you’re off to a good start in 2024. You may be able to increase your wealth if you follow sound advice and do your research on estate planning.