A family member recently passed, and I will receive a six-figure inheritance from a trust. I already have a financial adviser, and I’m working on a plan to save/invest half and give away the other half. My question is, how do I bring this up with friends? I make a reasonable salary from my public-service job and still have student loans to pay off. For my immediate day-to-day life and lifestyle, I don’t expect this money to change anything significantly. But the security of suddenly having retirement savings as well as being able to make significant donations to nonprofit and grassroots organizations I care about is different.
This isn’t the kind of money where I could suddenly stop working as a young person and live lavishly, but it is a lot of money and I realize I have a lot of privilege to get it. I haven’t talked to my close friends about this yet, and it feels weird to bring up, but it feels more weird to not share information at all. Also, I’ve been a person who rolls their eyes about what I perceive as easy lives of “trust fund” recipients in the past, and now I’m one of them!
My friends are empathetic and reasonable, but I just feel self-conscious about getting a lot of money I did nothing to earn. How would you recommend talking to friends about this?
It can be jarring to inherit money, especially when it results from the death of a loved one. You seem to have a great plan for what you’re doing with it (donating to causes you care about and saving the rest), and I’m glad you have a financial adviser to guide you.
But sudden changes in your financial situation can be isolating, too. You used to be in the same boat as your peers — able to afford similar things, relating to each other’s financial challenges. It’s not like you’re quitting your job or buying a yacht now, but this money puts you on a different resource level. That’s incredibly lucky, of course, but it’s also a little lonely.
I can understand your desire to talk to close friends about this, as well as your trepidation around how it could affect your relationships. If there’s one thing that everyone has opinions about, it’s other people’s money, especially when it comes from a trust fund. You’re smart to tread carefully and be thoughtful about this.
To figure out the best way for you to broach this topic, I spoke to several people who work with families with multigenerational wealth. Ellen Perry, the founder of Wealthbridge Partners, recommends that you start by considering three questions: Why you want to tell someone, who you want to tell, and how you want to tell them.
“I’ve had a lot of clients over the years ask things like, ‘When should I tell a person I’m dating that I have this money? If I’m out for pizza with friends, should I pick up the bill because I can afford to, or will that throw off the power dynamic in the relationship?’” she says. “At their core, these are questions about identity and belonging and trust.”
The first step is to think about your objective. “Ask yourself, ‘What am I looking for? Is it transparency and openness, to deepen my relationship?’” says Perry. It’s normal and healthy to process life changes by discussing them with your inner circle. Disclosing this news may also feel like a natural part of a close friendship — and withholding it would be akin to hiding something. All of these are valid reasons to bring it up, says Perry. (On the flip side, bad reasons would include trying to gain status or impress people with your money. Neither of those really sound like your issue, though.)
Next, think about who you’d like to tell, specifically. “Whenever we disclose something private or sensitive, there’s a calculus about whether the recipient can be trusted with it,” Perry continues. “Could it disrupt the friendship in some way? Will they tell other people?” This will be a friend-by-friend evaluation. If your instinct is to keep quiet out of self-protection, pay attention to that intuition. You can’t always anticipate or control a person’s response, but it’s worth thinking about what you hope they’ll do or say, and how it’ll impact your relationship.
Another litmus test is that you should feel comfortable voicing those concerns to the person in question. For example: “I hope that you’ll keep this between us. And if it changes the way you think of me, please let me know, because I value our friendship,” etc.
Finally, prepare for the conversation itself — and for the follow-up questions your friends might pose. Namely, do you want to reveal the amount of money you received? “People almost always ask how much, and you should be ready with a response that makes you feel comfortable,” says Perry.
Based on your vague characterization of “six figures,” I’m assuming you’d prefer not to give an amount. And that’s wise. People tend to glom on to specific numbers as if it’s cash sitting in your pocket; considering this money is in a trust, most of it is probably invested and may not even be easily accessible to you. So if people ask, Perry recommends saying something like, “It’s a couple times my salary,” or “It’s in the six figures,” or “I’m still wrapping my head around it and would prefer not to share.”
It’s also worth being explicit about your gratitude to be in this lucky position, says Jennifer Pendergast, a consultant for multigenerational family businesses and professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “It’s better to err on the side of humility and appreciation,” she says. “You could say something like, ‘I’m so fortunate that this member of my family did X, and made enough money to leave some of it to me in their will. Now I’m figuring out how to be a good steward of this gift and use it productively.’”
Pendergast also notes that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a big deal, either. “Chances are, most of your friends aren’t going to notice any difference in your life,” she says. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t a huge advantage — generational wealth definitely is — but hopefully, it’s just that, and not a wedge in your relationships.
The Cut’s financial advice columnist Charlotte Cowles answers readers’ personal questions about personal finance. Email your money conundrums to email@example.com