• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 10:25pm
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 November, 2013, 7:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 1:52am

Don't leave all your money to your children

Kelly Yang urges parents to consider how an inheritance of wealth may hinder - rather than help - their child's success in life

Last year, nearly HK$7 billion was given to charity by 47 Hong Kong philanthropists, a report revealed. The vast majority went to causes here at home and in mainland China. The reason for all this giving? Hongkongers are increasingly reluctant to leave all their money to their children.

A popular Chinese proverb advises that "prosperity can never last for three generations". Business titans often worry that no matter how hard-working and successful they are, there's no telling what the next generation will do with their legacy, especially if that generation is unmotivated, wasteful, or both.

We need to remove the notion of an automatic inheritance. This is a philosophy that many wealthy philanthropists in the West adhere to, including Bill Gates, who has said on various occasions that "leaving kids with massive amounts of money is not a favour to them". It's worth mentioning that he is leaving his children US$10 million each, which, granted, is loose change compared to his US$65 billion, but still not nothing.

I've talked to countless Hong Kong students over the years about Gates and his Giving Pledge - the commitment by the world's wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. The most common reaction is admiration and respect. The second most common reaction, believe it or not, is disgust.

"How selfish!" many say. Apparently, to many Hong Kong children, the idea that their parents may want to give away their money to charity instead of to them is simply appalling. Some said that if their parents did this, they might not speak to them again.

Their rationale is: life is so difficult and the world so rife with competition, why would any loving parent purposely take away aid from their own child?

Because sometimes wealth and privilege is a hindrance, not a help, I tell them. Sometimes money destroys. Take the case of 22-year-old Li Qiming, who in 2010 killed a college girl in Heibei while he was drink-driving. When caught, the first words out of his mouth were: "Sue me if you dare, my father is [deputy police chief] Li Gang."

When I cite this example to Hong Kong teenagers, their eyes glaze over, as if to say, "Yeah, yeah, but that won't happen to me." According to them, their stories are more likely to be akin to that of Francis Lui Yiu-tung, the eldest son of property tycoon Lui Che-woo who took over Galaxy Entertainment from his father and made it even more successful.

"Without my parents' money, how exactly am I supposed to get a head start in life?" teens ask.

I usually respond with a list of ways in which children of wealthy families already have a tremendous head start in life - education, stable home, internship opportunities and so on. But an equally important response is: "Maybe you're not supposed to have a head start in life."

Sometimes, the best thing we, as parents, can do for our children and society is to give them a level playing field.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School. kelly@kellyyang.com


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Not sure I agree with you on this one Kelly. I kind of see what you're getting at in that giving children too much can make them less motivated. I agree this CAN happen, but only in certain cases. In my opinion, the core of the problem is not parents leaving them too much money as much as not bringing them up with correct values. If children are brought up well with positive attributes such as integrity, respect, motivation, compassion etc, then I see no reason why any parent shouldn't give them a financial head start in life. Sure it's all very glamorous for the highest achievers among us to look back and say "hey, I made it all on my own". But how many of these high achievers exist? I for one would be content if my kids grow up and simply say "hey, I made it".
I agree fully with you Kelly. It is highly probable that the inheritance will become a hindrance to the next generation as the money comes just too easily. The parents need to gauge carefully whether their offspring should inherit everything, a portion or nothing at all. If the children are of a very small age, leave him/her with enough to cover basic needs including education. If they are already adults, the parents should have some idea of whether they are 'fit enough' to inherit everything. As for getting a 'head start' as some youngsters vouch for these youngsters need to know that you will only cherish what you earn and not something easily bestwoed on you by your parents.
I am totally with you on this! Children of well-off families already have good opportunities of every kind - education, travel, social connections and a range of experiences that money can buy them! They grow up in a comfortable environment with very few worries! Parents may give their children guidance, advice, encouragement and some assistance. By leaving them huge inheritance is really depriving these children of making use of they have already had to build a legacy on their own and for themselves. With all the education and privileges their children have got, parents should trust their children that they can succeed in life; it may not be a smooth path but they will make it! This way, they can proudly claim 'success' (whether it's small or big) as 'theirs'. When children saying 'how selfish' this is not leaving them the 'money' is a selfish claim itself but they are entitled to say that anyway! It just make me think how little confidence they have in themselves and how unwilling and frightened they are to face challenges, uncertainties and hard times! Then again, I wonder what kind of 'values' their parents have instilled in them all these years which have led their children to think that it is selfish for their parents not to give them all the money!
The case of Li Qiming is not a good example. It was more a case of abuse of borrowed power rather than money, which is even more damaging to society. This unfortunately happens mainly in the corrupted country called China.


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