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Wishing mom had some tact

Dear Carolyn: My parents are in their mid-60s. They're retired and having a wonderful time, which I'm very happy about. Recently I was visiting them and, out of nowhere, my mother said, "I hope you kids know your father and I aren't going to be leaving you anything when we die. Our legacy to you was raising you well and loving you the way we do."

I wasn't sure what to say, so I made some nondescript response to see if she would continue, but she changed the subject.

My parents both received money from their parents when they passed, which allowed them to retire early. My parents didn't pay for our college tuition, nor have they helped out with weddings, home down payments, etc. They've just never offered, and my siblings and I have always done fine as adults without their financial support.

I guess I'm just not sure what to think about her statement. I feel a little slighted, which makes me feel guilty. Should I bring it up with her?

-- S.

A: My own view happens to be that a parent's money is a parent's money, and there's no obligation to leave anything to kids -- and that they did you a favor by expecting you to be financially independent.

Yet I still think your mom's pronouncement breaks some insensitivity records. While it's important for parents not to spoil their kids, and to equip them to stand alone, that has always been a tough line to walk for parents, especially wealthy ones, especially with inherited money. It requires a balance of being generous in sharing good fortune with family (and others) while both modeling discipline in their lifestyle, and emphasizing the importance of investing hard work into individual interests. Parents who say no to themselves ground and validate the word "no" for their kids.

Enjoying luxuries they didn't earn while leaving their kids to earn their luxuries? That's rich soil for resentment.

This could, of course, be Mom's way of warning you the inheritance is running dry. If so, though, there was better phrasing available. For example, the truth: "The money we inherited is starting to run out" -- because it was never abundant to begin with, because their investments collapsed, whatever -- "so I wanted to make sure you're secure without it." Certainly don't feel guilty for wishing your mom had some tact.

So you have two non-spoiled choices. You can bite your tongue, accept this as consistent with the parents you know, and decide on your own what to do with the information (emotionally and financially). Or, you can talk to your mom to make sure all is well. "What you said the other day about not leaving us money is still on my mind -- actually, more the fact that you even brought it up. Are you guys having financial trouble? Is there something we should know?"

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