The Inheritor's Syndrome-- What Is It? How Does It Form? How to Reverse It!


by Ralph M. Daniel, Ph.D.
We all have an intuitive understanding of the "Inheritor Syndrome."  We usually think of someone who is spoiled and expects others to provide for him or her. Typically, we think about a person who contributes little or nothing to others. However,  the Inheritor's Syndrome is more complex, more profound, and most importantly, it can be prevented!

What is the Inheritor's Syndrome?

Overall, the syndrome is characterized by a disconnection from self, feelings and others.  These individuals are out of touch with the "grist-of-life."  Their relationships tend to be shallow and they tend to be spectators instead of active participants.  They lack meaning in their lives, and there is usually little or no passion to their existence. They lack meaningful work or vocations. Often these individuals are highly dependent on other family members and their advisors. Frequently they abuse drugs and alcohol.

The Inheritor's Syndrome is a problem for the individual sufferer, his or her family, their family business or enterprise, and their professional advisors, particularly commercial and estate attorneys.  

The Difficulty Denial Creates:

Unfortunately, many inheritors who suffer this syndrome also have considerable difficulty admitting that the syndrome exists or has taken hold. Frequently, the inheritor is not readily able to recognize his or her problem, in large part out of guilt, shame, and a hopeless sense that they are doomed to suffer without relief or remedy. For many of the same reasons, family members are frequently blinded by denial to the condition of their son or daughter or grandchild. For all these reasons, it is beneficial for professionals who understand the syndrome to assist the troubled inheritor, his or her family, and their family enterprise.  

How Does The Syndrome Form?

Often, families with wealth and motivated by love, create an overly protective "safety net" which they feel is in the best interest of their child.  Advisors are subtly drawn into the pattern, and a cycle of "impaired knowledge" is established. While both sexes suffer from the Inheritor's Syndrome, daughters are particularly susceptible to this phenomenon. 

Can the Inheritor's Syndrome be Reversed?

Yes, if caught early enough, the problem can be neutralized and reversed. There is no definitive universal age at which point the syndrome becomes irreversible.  However, the problem can become fairly intractable if the inheritor has access to substantial funds in late adolescence or early adulthood (early 20s), following a pattern of child rearing that was characterized by an overly protective "safety net" and a repetitive cycle of "impaired knowledge." Those families that wait until their children have access to substantial funds and personal possessions are often too late to appreciably reverse the Inheritor's Syndrome.  

How Can the Syndrome be Reversed?

There are a number of readily implementable solutions that advisors (including estate attorneys), parents, and other family members can institute to reverse the syndrome, and instead produce children of "substance." Similar to a painting that requires an interplay of key colors, an effective plan requires a synergistic integration of key elements.

The palette must be tailored to each individual, each family and each family enterprise.  Developing an effective plan that undermines the Inheritor's Syndrome requires the professional to carefully collaborate with the client and his or her family, taking into account the various family member's values, interests, talents and personal goals. The tools include appropriately designed Trusts, the use of Family Charitable Foundations, the creation of family enterprises, investment training programs, and graduated education regarding managing family funds.  With younger children a program that involves saving, as well as the judicious use of rewards and punishments is also effective.

The earlier one starts on such a program, the more likely it will be effective, ideally crafting a family enterprise plan to raise "children of substance" while the children are still in elementary school. 

published by: Ventura Bar News

© 1998 Ralph M. Daniel


Posted on October 8, 2013 .