Entitlement to Others’ Wealth

Entitlement. It’s a word with many meanings. Its popular uses at present in the United States seem to be 1)referring to entitlement programs like Social Security and 2) referring to the supposedly-popular sentiment of entitlement (to a job, to an education, to money, etc.) among Millennials. The first is factual, the second is very much a matter of opinion, and I am not referring to either.

I want to talk about a different kind of entitlement. The entitlement people feel to money in their family, particularly the money of grandparents and parents. Why do I want to talk about this? Because the popularity of the idea that you are somehow entitled to money other people have earned is distressing.

I’ll start with an example from television. Recently, a wealthy character (CeCe) on Gossip Girl died. She left all her money to a young woman (Ivy) completely unrelated to her. CeCe’s children and grandchildren freaked out, plotting to deprive Ivy of her new-found wealth. These characters acted as if the money already belonged to them before CeCe died. They acted as if they were entitled to the money, and as if CeCe had no right to dispose of her money however she wished. Particularly disgusting is that all of the disinherited individuals have plenty of money, they simply feel so entitled to what belonged to their mother/grandmother that they can’t accept her decision.

That’s a fictional example, of course. How about some real world examples? Someone close to my family told me that a person he knows, let’s call him Jeff, asked his father for Jeff’s inheritance early. In other words, Jeff asked for what he expected to be his inheritance before Jeff’s father died. Talk about entitlement, Jeff tried to take the money before it had ceased to belong to his father. Additionally, one of Jeff’s brothers, call him Lyle, told another brother, who happened to have taken on the responsibility of bringing his father to the doctor and checking on him, call him Kyle, to stop taking such good care of their father so he would hurry up and die.

Here’s an example from my own life, albeit a bit different: My grandfather mentioned his will the other day. In a psuedo-threat he said he wouldn’t give me any of his money in his will (his will has already been written, I doubt if any changes will be made thus it wasn’t a real threat), as if it would matter to me. As if I had decided that I was entitled to his money. I told him I didn’t expect him to give me anything, before or after he dies. I’ve never formed such expectations. All I have ever expected from my family is some level of affection.

It disturbs me that people, of all ages, don’t distinguish between their own money and the money that belongs to their family members. I think a vivid example is when people win the lottery – their family and friends often ask for money, gifts, and loans, and they react poorly when not given what they want. If you have a million dollars (or a billion or 100 million or whatever amount), that money belongs to only those who earned (or won) it – you.

My grandfather’s money belongs only to my grandfather. While I may criticize some of the ways in which he spends it (and I do occasionally), I have no say over it. I don’t expect one. My mother’s money? It’s her money. She can do as she likes with it. If she wants to spend it on me, I probably won’t argue, but I do not expect it. My paternal grandfather’s money? It’s his. While he is wealthy enough that I might inherit a small gift when he passes, I don’t expect it. If he decides to give that money to charity or a complete stranger, that’s fine.

You are only in charge of your own money. If you are a couple, you may share control over collective earnings. Others’ money is not yours. It is theirs to do as they wish with. Being related to someone does not give you a claim to their money before or after they die, unless, I suppose, a will is not in existence, but I’m not speaking from a legal standpoint, I’m speaking from a moral one.

If your family member or loved one built their own wealth, your relationship does not entitle you to a cut of that wealth. If you grew up wealthy, but only because of other people’s money, you are not entitled to wealth. If your friend won the lottery, you are not entitled to a gift or a loan or anything else.

We don’t deserve other people’s money because we were a good friend or a good daughter or simply related or we grew up with their money. We don’t deserve their money at all, really. Not usually anyway. Not if you nursed them through cancer or Alzheimer’s, and not if you were a devoted and loyal friend all your life. Because doing those things? They’re things that should be done out of love or friendship or duty (or even because you are paid to do so as a nurse or other care-taker). They’re not things that should be done solely or even mostly in the hopes of inheritance.

We are not entitled to anyone else’s wealth. No one is entitled to bequeath their wealth to family members or charities or even to people in general because it belongs only to one person. That person has a right to decide what to do with their money and they deserve for their decisions to be respected, even if they left all their money in trust to pay for a parrot.

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