by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

The Wall Street Journal isn’t usually a place for sports news, so I was surprised to find a picture of pitcher Tom Glavine on the front page the other day. Intrigued, I read the story, which proved to be about Glavine’s plans for his death and his money — or, better put, where does his dough go after he does?

Glavine, who earns $8 million a year throwing a baseball for Atlanta, was concerned about leaving his sizable fortune to his children. “I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” he told the Journal, implying that anything his mouth wasn’t good enough for, his children’s weren’t either.

Glavine’s solution was an interesting one. He told the Journal he didn’t want his kids thinking life was a breeze. Didn’t want them, in essence, going to his funeral, then running to the bank yelling, “Payday!”

To that end, he is creating a “family incentive trust” that, in the case of his untimely death, would distribute his money to his children only under certain conditions. In a nutshell, they would have to behave as he saw fit.

No obedience, no inheritance.

For example, in an effort to encourage a work ethic — “I don’t want my kids to think they don’t have to do anything in life,” he says — he plans to match the money they earn from a career up to their first $100,000. If they work and earn $50,000, they’ll get another $50,000 from the trust. If they work harder and earn $75,000, they can count on $75,000 from dear, dead dad.

But the work incentive is only the beginning. Glavine’s 4-year-old daughter, Amber, recently told him she wanted to be “an animal doctor.” Glavine likes this, so he’s thinking of a $200,000 bonus in his will if Amber starts a veterinary practice.

Gee. It’s a good thing little Amber didn’t want to be the queen of England. That’d be a hard check to collect.

Trying to prevent the bickering

Then there was the matter of mothering. Glavine grew up with his mother at home. Not working. He thinks this is the way it should be. So he plans to offer $10,000 a month to his daughter if she stays at home after she has a baby. Wow. Ten grand a month to stop working. I know a few people who would jump at that one.

The point is not stay-at-home moms, but from-the-grave parents. Attaching strings to one’s inheritance is not a new idea. It has been going on for centuries. But the motivation has never changed: to live beyond death by controlling lives after you’re gone.

It doesn’t always work. We’ve all heard stories of people who enter marriages of convenience in order to gain an inheritance, then quickly divorce after splitting the money. Is that really what the departed had in mind?

We’ve heard tales of children who are forced to run a family business in order to gain an inheritance, but are miserable in doing so. Is that what the departed had in mind?

On the other hand, you can certainly understand why some people want to set up rules about the wealth they leave behind. There is nothing more disgusting than watching heirs turn into vultures, chewing at the carcass of a dead relative, letting greed replace all shreds of love and affection.

Trying to live two lifetimes

So if you can’t take it with you and you can’t control what happens to it, what to do? Well, you have plenty of options. You always can leave it to charity. You can turn it over to a college. You can bypass your relatives and give it to the gardener who always did a nice job on those azalea bushes.

Or you can simply take your chances. You can leave your children your material things the way your parents left you theirs, and hope that the lessons you taught them will lead them to do the right thing.

Remember, leaving a fortune to your children may change their lives, but dangling bonus checks will change them, too. They might do the right things for the wrong reasons. Maybe you think that’s a good alternative.

I’m not so sure. I think we get our lives to lead, and our children get theirs. They get to make their mistakes. They get to learn from them. Trying to live two lifetimes — yours and your child’s — is a bit greedy.

Besides, how do you know your financial parenting is for the best? I’m sure Glavine feels that dangling those checks in front of his kids’ noses will lead them down the right path.

Then again, what might Glavine have become if one of his ancestors tried to do the same, leaving him a nice, fat inheritance provided he stay away from high-risk, juvenile careers — like baseball?


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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