Two old siblings fight over money

Inheritance can be tricky; many of us dream about receiving a large inheritance from a long-lost dead relative (with no strings attached, of course). Inheritance becomes a contentious issue within families, conflicts arise, relationships become strained (or completely severed). When a family member passes away, the way in which their assets are distributed can lead to feelings of envy, anger, or disheartenment. Feelings of perceived favoritism may arise, anger over the “unfairness” of splitting assets, etc. Disputes are exacerbated by underlying family dynamics and unresolved tensions; all of this adds further fuel to the fire that is the grief and turmoil the family is already going through, having lost a loved one. Communication is key!

In reality, getting an inheritance in real life does come with strings attached: wars over inheritance can tear families apart. Celebrities like Michael Jackson, Prince, and many others, have left behind bawling, brawling, family members fighting countless battles in the courtroom.

But does the average joe, who doesn’t have as much money as say, Michael Jackson, really have to worry about what he or she is going to pass on to their kids?

As it turns out: yes.

Inheritance isn’t just about the money you’ll pass on to your family members. Receiving an inheritance is loaded with emotional significance: sentimental items, heirlooms, family paraphernalia – all have a connection to the past. This connection could either make or break the members of your family members when you pass away. This is more than just about money; inheritance can become a symbol of how loved a child feels.

Emotions can run high; especially when one sibling fears receiving nothing left behind by his/her parents, or when when one sibling learns that he or she is about to inherit less than a brother or sister.

Communication is the key to dealing with this problem: when tensions are running high among family members, having a calm discussion with your children before setting out your Will can really soothe over any hurt feelings. Your children should be able to understand the reasons as to why they are getting what they’re getting when you pass away. The reasons concerning their inheritance should be clearly outlined. Essentially, if you, as the father, or the mother, are writing up your Last Will, you’ll want to sit everyone down and have an open and honest conversation as to why your children are inheriting what they are, and the reasons behind it. Why is one sibling getting more? Why is one sibling getting less? Communicating with your loved ones about the reasons behind their inheritance before you pass away, before you get sick, and while you’re clear of mind, keeps the lines of communication open.

For some, communication with their parents is not so easy, particularly when one parent appears to be narcissistic. There are parents who will make decisions regarding their children’s inheritance and have the attitude of “It’s my money, and I can do whatever I want.” The lack of a need to justify their decisions as to why they’re doing what they’re doing can cause a rift among their children. That appears to be the case with one person who recently wrote to an online column (Dear Amy) asking for advice about how to deal with her estranged brother:

“Dear Amy: My brother and I are both in our 70s. We’ve only spoken once in the last three years. After our father passed, our mother sold their home. My father had previously told my brother that when they sold the house, he wanted to give a certain amount of money to each of us. Our mother did not honor our father’s wishes, but did give us each a smaller amount. Years later she deposited a good sum of money into his account but asked him not to tell me. (I wouldn’t have cared at all.) Mom later called the bank and asked for the money back. My brother was angry, but approved it, and then stopped speaking to her. My mother moved closer to me and I was her sole caretaker for seven years until she moved into assisted living. She spent the rest of her money paying for her care. My brother thinks I got more money from her than he did, which is not true.”

With the mother now gone, greed, as the author implies, is the problem:

“He [my brother] also expected me to give him money from the sale of my home because I had gotten more than the asking price. I had sent him $1,000. I also sent him over $5,000 when he needed emergency dental care. I wondered why he never returned my calls, until I found out from his estranged wife that he had expected to receive a lot more money from me from the sale of my house.”

There are certain details that appear to be omitted, but that is the gist of the letter. The author wonders what she can do to smooth things over with her brother.

The ball, as Amy replied, is now in the brother’s court.

You can read more about this story, here.

Although the author doesn’t mention it, things could have been smoothed out if their late mother had simply sat down with her two children and explained the reasons as to why she was spending their inheritance the way she was. A (difficult) conversation about the whole thing could have saved years of estrangement between the two siblings after she passed away.

It may have even kept the relationship between the two siblings intact.

Take this as a lesson when you’re planning our the inheritance for your children or loved ones: communicate!

man holding dollar bills

Many people view inheritance as a gold ticket: it’s the key to paying off debt, travelling the word, and living a life of luxury. Many Millennials have been suffering through a prolonged period of economic hardship since the great recession in 2008. The supposed “wealth transfer” might (hopefully) mitigate some of that financial blowback. An inheritance can change the person’s life for the better, if the money is blown on stuff they don’t need. Even a small amount of money is life changing in this day and age. If you’re lucky enough to inherit a small fortune, don’t blow that money. Besides doing the responsible thing and paying off your debts and mortgage, you can use it to have fun AND spread it around to your community.

Many people have used their inheritances to create positive and lasting impacts, honoring the legacy of their benefactors. When people inherit money, jewellery, or anything of value, there are those who choose to invest in their education or grandchildren, which releases a lot of the financial burden for their own children. While many people are relying on the possibility of an inheritance these days, only a few lucky ones may have the money to direct their efforts towards philanthropic efforts. This would include charitable foundations, funding scholarships, supporting medical research, etc. The latter is what we’re going to focus on today.

Let’s delve into the ways inheritance can be used as a widespread force for good:


Social Changes

Humanitarian Aid


Guardian of the Sydney Harbour

Building a Legacy of Education

Leaving a legacy is important for many people. Regardless of an inheritance or not, many people do want to give back to their community. Many people choose to leave money for schools and hospitals. Some people have given back by donating to their local school system, either because they really believe in the importance of education, or they had a good experience at their former alma mater, or both. The people who inherit and choose to do good with their money aren’t just leaving behind a legacy in the field of education, they’re changing other aspects of society as well:

Catalyzing Social Change

Many wealthy people often leave money to charities or foundations in the form of philanthropy. There are a variety of causes to support and charities always need money. Philanthropy can ease the burden and leave a legacy behind for your heirs. There are some billionaires, for instance, who have promised to donate their entire fortunes when they pass away.

Humanitarian Aid Efforts

An inheritance can also bolster humanitarian aid efforts in other parts of the world. An inheritance can go to worthwhile causes, such as Doctors without Borders, provide support for organizations around the world, and much more.

Empowering Entrepreneurship and Innovation

There are always startups looking for seed money: startups offer new innovative ways to offer products that can change people’s lives for the better. Supporting these startups can lead to supporting something brand new and innovative.

Guardian of the Sydney Harbour

This brings us to Australian native Andy Orr: the 55 year-old former school teacher inherited enough money to leave his job and dedicate his time to something he truly passionate about: sweeping up the Sydney Harbour. Every morning, Orr leaves his house with his trusty hat, bucket, and gloves in tow. He spends each morning picking out the plastic litter that sweeps across the harbour. He came up with the idea while strolling along the harbour with his wife a decade ago. He began cleaning up the plastic debris in his spare time.

The inheritance he received in 2020 has allowed him to quit his job and pick up trash full-time.

The most common piece of garbage that he often finds? Plastic straws. Reflecting on the activity, Orr says that picking up litter full-time is a “meditative” process. He finds it calming.

What happens when the 55 year-old’s knees give away? Orr says he’ll continue his work from a boat.

You might argue that Orr is only making a small impact on the world; but he’s doing what he loves and his inheritance has freed him of any financial restraints. He’s doing good in the world. Will you do good in the world as well? Inherit and do good!

Inheritance can make a meaningful difference in the world.

Man Excited by Windfall

You’ve got $50 million dollars – as the title implies. What do you do with it? Before you go blowing it all on a fancy cruise vacation, new house, BMW, new car, or yes, avocado toast, take some time to collect your thoughts and let the fact that you’ve inherited a fortune sink in. That’s what Ken from Sacramento did. After inheriting $50 million dollars from his parents, he called into the Dave Ramsey show to gain some perspective on how to manage his money. You can learn from Ken on what to do if you ever wind up in the same situation. Here are a few tips on managing inheritance that we’d like to share:

Stay calm and don’t be in a rush to spend your money

See professional advice

Set clear financial goals

Pay off debts and pad your emergency fund

Invest your money wisely

Don’t blow it all

Giving back

1. Take a Breath and Don’t Rush

This one should be obvious: don’t rush to blow it all. When Ken reached out to the Dave Ramsey show about how to spend his $50 million dollar inheritance, Ramsey offered the following advice: spend some, save some, invest some, give some of the money to charity, etc. The news of an unexpected inheritance can be overwhelming, triggering a flurry of emotions. Try to adjust to your new financial reality before making any rash decisions.

2. Seek Professional Advice

One of the first things you may want to do is to seek out professional advice from a financial advisor. While Ken Consider consulting with a financial advisor, accountant, or lawyer who specializes in inheritance matters. That is why the caller called into the Dave Ramsey show: to receive advice from a professional on what to do with his inheritance. A financial advisor can help you grasp the full picture of dealing with taxes, investments, any fees, bills to pay off, debts, etc. An advisor can offer the best strategies for managing or investing your assets. A financial advisor may also help you tackle paying for everything in this era of high inflation. You may want to consult with an advisor you are really comfortable with, and who you have a good relationship with. You don’t want to stick with the SAME advisor just because that particular person is someone who your parents used (IF your parents had one).

3. Set Clear Goals

Once you’ve gathered the necessary information, it’s time to set clear goals for what you want to achieve with your inheritance. You may want to look at paying everything off you owe before deciding to (wisely) use the money to invest, renovate your house, travel, etc. Specific goals are the key: whether it be diversifying your portfolio, or planning your estate.

4. Pay Off Debts and Build Emergency Fund

This one goes without saying: If you have any outstanding debts (student loans, credit card debt, etc.), consider using a portion of your inheritance to pay them off. Even if you comb through your finances with a financial advisor, you still shouldn’t touch that money and just brazenly spend it all. When you pay off your all of your debts, you can relax and focus on investing for the future. It’s a practical way to secure your financial future and relieve the burden of debt. It’s also good to prioritize an building up an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses. You don’t have to have a specific amount between three to six months of savings, but if you have an inheritance and are looking to save for the future, it’s always wise to do following: pay off debt and have an emergency fund. It sounds obvious, but when you actually have access to the money, it’s tempting to simply blow it all. You might also underestimate how much money you really need to live on and invest for your future.

5. Invest Wisely

Consider diversifying your inheritance into investments to mitigate risks and maximize returns. Consult with a financial advisor to develop an investment strategy. Whether you invest in stocks, bonds, real estate, or put money into mutual funds, TFSAs, or RRSPs, make informed decisions.

6. Plan for the Future

Once you have used that money to plan for YOUR future and invest wisely, you may also want to spread the wealth (to your family members and loved ones, that is). You may want to use some of that inheritance to fund your children’s education. You may not have a million to your name, but estate planning is always valuable. Take the time to create or update your estate plan, including Wills, trusts, and beneficiaries. Planning ahead ensures that your assets are distributed.

7. Enjoy Responsibly

It sounds like a beer slogan, but it’s true: enjoy your money responsibly. Treat yourself to something special, but avoid overspending or making impulsive decisions that could deplete your inheritance. Stories abound about lottery winners who blow through their money within a decade and wind up broke. If you’re not careful, the same could happen to you, regardless of how you come across your windfall (i.e. lottery or inheritance).

8. Give Back

Lastly, many people who have their Wills drawn up often consider leaving something for charity. Many people do this in their Wills, but if you ever come across a significant windfall, you may want to consider donating the money right away. That money you donate will surely have a meaningful impact on others around you.

Whether you inherit a million, or a small windfall, just be sure to manage it carefully.

Be sure to seek out advice, like Ken from Sacramento.

A fistful of money

Updated: June 2024

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.

She’s not alone: many wealthy Austrians have made their fortunes in finance, real estate, manufacturing, and the (burgeoning) tech field. The rich often reside in cities like Vienna and Salzburg. Austria, a country known for it’s profound musical legacy, being the birthplace of classical music legends like Mozart, Haydn, and Strauss, is a cultural hub for many who visitors.

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.