There is an old saying: “Money can’t buy happiness.”
And there is an equally old retort: “But poverty can’t buy anything”.
There are very good reasons why the very rich often chose to leave their children only a modest slice of their fabulous wealth, just as Bill and Melinda Gates are doing.
The majority of the Gates US $130billion fortune will be left to charity, specifically the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that has done and continues to do tremendous work across the globe pulling people out of the grinding horrors of poverty with clean water, sewerage, housing, health and education.
But only a very small portion, a mere $10million will go to their children.
Whilst some might look at that and see only what they have lost- what they are not going to inherit – (and acknowledging that for many children there is a strong sense of entitlement to their parents money which in truth is not theirs to make demands on) if you look dispassionately at what they are actually going to inherit, it is still a very sizeable sum. There are few of us whose lives would not be immeasurably improved by inheriting $10million, a sum far greater than most first division lottery wins.
So why would billionaires leave comparatively so little to their children?
The answer I think lays in this quote by another famous billionaire, Warren Buffet, who said- “leave your children enough money so they can do anything, but not enough that they could do nothing.”
In this light, $10m gives a person enough money to be truly free of the debts and struggles of normal life, but no so much that they are free to be indolent, lazy or purposeless in life.
Leaving hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars to children inevitably brings a raft of problems, the main one being loss of purpose. When you can buy anything, nothing has value. Children of millionaires who inherit large sums often lead lives dominated by the burdens of great wealth- the fear of losing it, the constant fear of others trying to strip it from you, and the fear of life itself losing meaning. It is only those who are well schooled in this and who understand the pressures and difficulties that vast sums carry with it that can navigate the difficult path of stewarding a fortune for future generations and not have it evaporate.
There is great wisdom in the Gates’ decision to leave such a comparatively small sum to their children, and a lesson that many of the wealthiest of us could learn from.