Are You Leaving Your Children an Inheritance?

We asked readers to tell us if they are leaving an inheritance for their children and how their decisions have affected their finances and family. Their stories have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Michael Stoll, 63, of Germantown, Tenn., retired from his career as a certified public accountant four years ago. His wife, Nancy, 66, left her job in 1982 when they had their first child. They have two children, 33 and 35, and three grandchildren, 4, 7 and 14 months.

It’s really one of my beliefs that there is no reason I should leave anything to my children. I’m not looking to leave them a legacy, I’m not looking to enrich them, they’re fine on their own. I will either burn everything up with my wife or we’ll give it away to charity. My wife and I have been so blessed with our health, our children, our livelihoods, whether through our church or any organization that helps the poor. The only thing that we will do is make absolutely certain that our grandchildren will have enough money in their 529 plans to go to college.

My whole philosophy was when the children went to school, they were on the “Stoll scholarship,” which required them to have at least a 3.0 average and it required them to graduate in four years and it didn’t allow them to come back home. Neither one of them came home; there was no boomerang. We have well-rounded children and they’re doing terrific on their own. I always joke they are off my payroll and it’s the best feeling ever. As a matter of fact, they usually pay for us.

I’ve never realized how much I would enjoy being retired. Before, I worked hard to make money, now I work hard to save money, whether it’s grocery shopping or household utilities, it makes it so easy here in the mid-South to economize. I may have enough to live past 100!

Susana Kuehne, 27, of Becker, Minn., is a patent agent at a law firm. Her husband, Jerrad, 26, served in the Navy and is now a stay-at-home parent to their 3-year-old son. Ms. Kuehne is currently pregnant.

I grew up in a home where there was just no concept of saving. It never bothered me, since I didn’t know much, I didn’t expect much. I saw my parents struggle the whole way through. That was striking to me. It makes me sad that they had to grow up like that. I know they gave us more than what they had, and I want to give my children more than what I had. So it’s important to me. We don’t have to give him a trust fund, but we have to give him something in case something happens.

I don’t contribute to an I.R.A., I don’t feel comfortable with that, so we focus on saving. We purposefully just don’t put it in the bank anymore, it’s too easy to transfer when you’re in the negative. Both times we’ve had almost $10,000 in savings, but had to take it out. People don’t understand why you say you’re broke when you have a job. No one talks about these things, but being broke is not having these savings. For some people, they say I’ll just invest in retirement in my 40s or 50s and the older people I’ve talked to say that’s not at all the right way to go.

When I became pregnant the first time I didn’t have a job and I realized I never want to be in a situation where I can’t provide for my child. I wanted to make sure I had a safety net. But we had to learn the hard way that you cannot lean on credit cards. We’re playing catch-up, but we’re so young and in four years our mortgage will be way lower, our loans will be paid off. We actually started tithing this past Christmas, we felt a need to give back. I’m very religious and it finally kind of struck that one of the reasons I’m so overwhelmed sometimes is that I’m not giving back. I believe you have to save, you have to tithe and you have to pay the rest off; it just becomes a long list of things to do.

Anand Rami, 63, of Vancouver, Wash., retired from his career as a software engineer almost three years ago. His wife, Angela, 64, is also retired. Since the birth of their first child she has been a stay-at-home parent and before that, worked as an accounting clerk. Their sons are 29 and 33.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have more than enough for retirement; we don’t live extravagantly, but we are not lacking for anything that we want and we do have a fairly substantial amount of assets. Both of our sons are doing quite well with their significant others, and we won’t be leaving them a significant portion, but every little bit helps and who knows what the future holds?

My parents both had to work in the United States in nonprofessional positions and when they passed away there really wasn’t much left at all, and we didn’t expect anything, so basically my sisters and I had to keep working.

In my professional career I was fortunate enough to have good contacts, an immigrant work ethic, and even though when I was earning just a middle-class salary it was our decision to save as much as we can, even if it meant foregoing vacations and new cars. As a rule, I managed to save 10 percent of my income, pretax, every month and over time it just built up.

Dennis Smith, 62, of Buffalo, N.Y., is a network specialist at the Board of Cooperative Educational Services. He is deciding whether to retire in two-and-a-half years or wait until 65, for the full benefits. His wife Cindy, 54, works in retail and expects to be working for some time after he retires. His sons are 28, 30 and 32.

My sons all have been out of college for several years, and they’re all successful in their careers. If my kids were in a different situation, certainly I would be more helpful. But at this point, there’s not a lot they need from me. I think they would be happy if I end up not being a burden to them, which I’m not planning to be, but who knows what happens down the road.

I’m helpful in other ways. My youngest son bought a house not too long ago and I’ve helped him and his wife learn how to do some of the maintenance, improvements. It’s like the old saying, teach a person to fish rather than feed them.

Carol Reardon, 50, of Bahama, N.C., is a captain at the Durham County Fire Department. She estimates that she is about four years away from retirement. Her husband, Sean, 46, who also works at the fire department, is about nine years from retirement. They have three children, 22, 24 and 26.

My husband and I will be in the Caribbean when we retire. I’m going to enjoy myself. I worked really hard to be in the fire department at a time when it wasn’t easy, but it was worth the sacrifice for the life I provided.

Putting my kids through college, that’s their inheritance. That is my gift to them, I think that’s a good investment, more so than just leaving them a nice chunk of change. The kids know that I’m not working to leave them a big inheritance. I did the best I could do for them and when I retire I’m going to enjoy myself, do more for me and not so much for them anymore.

My mother worked for the federal government, under the same pension plan idea that I have, so that’s very important to me. She does have a little trust fund for all us five kids, so it’s not much, but she doesn’t spend any of it and she wants to save it for us. But I really think she does that because she didn’t provide money for our college degrees; she didn’t have the means to do for us growing up like I do for my kids. The best thing she prepared me for was to work to have a retirement plan.