Also called as ‘Inheritance Impatience’, early inheritance syndrome is just one of the ugly faces of financial elder abuse. It is becoming a more common issue in a society where elders are living longer and living richer than at any time. Adult Children with ‘‘early inheritance syndrome’’ feel a sense of entitlement to their old parents’ assets.
These impatient children are not prepared to wait until their parents die. They seek ways for their parents to ‘‘gift’’ them money, or interfere in the management of their parents’ assets to protect what they see as their entitlement. Here we start narrating the long story of 74 year old Ramamurthy, a typical case of early inheritance syndrome.
“I should have taken your advice, parental love blurred my 74 years of wisdom” said Mr. Ramamurthy, holding his friend’s hand, tears rolled down his eyes when despair shrouded his face. A healthy widower past 16 years, Mr. Ramamurthy, is a classic example for “Happily Retired”. Healthy and socially well connected with a vast friend’s circle, he was able to peruse hobbies even after retirement. With sufficient savings coupled with a simple lifestyle he enjoyed the much needed financial independence in his old age and everything that described a happy retirement was part of Mr. Ramamurthy’s life. Over a foolish decision his life became topsy-turvy.
When everything was hunky-dory about Mr. Ramamurthy’s life, his only son puts forward a proposal which he could not resist. Ramamurthy used to live in an old Bangalore area but his son moved out to a new locality outside the city in the suburb closer to his work nudged by his wife after marriage. Ramamurthy lived in the area where he spent his entire life time, he was lucky enough that he never had to move out from his parental house neither he migrated in search of big fortunes like his other contemporaries. This has been the very reason for the strong social support systems that he had.
A typical day of Mr. Ramamurthy is enviable to many such elders. He had friends who come in groups to wake him up early in the morning to pull him out of the bed for a morning walk, a hot filter coffee at the local coffee shop, then a short walk back to home ends his socialization for the first half of the day. Second half is filled many more vibrant activities, he is part of an NGO where few of his retired friends joins him, they together help the special children with gardening skills; his life was not just fun filled but meaningful too. Evenings he did not have a regular task but each day was different, either to the Sangeet Sabha, or calling in on a friend who is not well, visiting relatives, going to library, attending comedy shows, going to elder’s club, or just strolling around the park. Weekends were dedicated for his grandchildren, either son and family calls in on him or he calls in on them.
Spouse loss happened immediately after retirement and few months after he had learned to cope with the loss and overcame the sorrow. It did not much affect him emotionally like it does affect many elderly when they lose their spouse at the far end of their life. He was not the typical retiree who think retirement was end of a ‘vibrant life’ instead he masked the monotony by various activities.
Ramamurthy, at heart of the heart was a proud man and he used to boast about his son and daughter in law to his friends how loving his son, daughter-in-law and grand children were. He was sure that their weekend won’t complete without meeting grandpa. Daughter-in-law was more than a daughter, for the love and affection she showered on him. Though Ramamaurthy visits them once a week, the table would be filled with the dishes he loved to eat, he saw the efforts to pay special attention to the details of his likes and dislikes. He wished and prayed the happiness lasts forever in his life but something unusual happened. One morning Son and Daughter-in-law did not wait for the weekend but showed up at the door with his favorite, sweet dish made ‘specially’ by daughter-in-law. He could not recollect which special day was that he missed but his son remembered! Without a preface, son puts the proposal forward, his wife wants to start a high end boutique, he confesses that the money he had was invested in his flat and the new car yet he had to borrow some more from the bank and his purse is running dry to help his wife with her longtime dream of owning a boutique. Son puts it bluntly, “Appa can we sell this house, you can stay with us! we love to have you with us for the rest of your life, grand children love you to have you all the time with them.”
Ramamurthy was not enthused by the proposal simply because all his life he lived in this house and lot of memories etched there. Son clarifies further, the driver can chauffer father for his activities outside, daughter-in-law will be able to cook the kind of food he loves, grandchildren will have their most beloved person telling them bed time stories, more importantly there will not be any hassle of running a house hold single handed at this age, the convincing reasons were endless.
Upon Ramamurthy discussing it with his closest buddies, the very idea was actually shunned by them. Friends cautioned him about the trap. They walked him through scenarios that might create issues in his life later and may affect his independence. Ramamurthy is now a confused man, he had no reason to believe his friends, because he never had to experience any single bitter experience from his son and his family. He told his friends that such incidence may happen elsewhere but not in his house and zipped up his friends mouth telling how confident he is of his son’s and daughter-in-law’s love who is more than a daughter to him.
Capitulated by a ‘reasonable demand’, Ramamurthy sold his ancestral house for a fatty sum. The purpose well served, soon daughter-in-law’s dream came true. A fancy two storied boutique came up down the lane. Ramamurthy moved into son’s four bed room luxury apartment. Initial days were exactly how he expected it to be. Those are days of just happiness in his life. Soon milieu at home took different shape.
Instead of ‘Idli’s and Dosas’, bread toast started appearing on the table for every day’s breakfast, most day’s lunch were a miss, he was asked to fix something for himself, dinners became too late as close to midnights till daughter-in-law gets back home. Ramamurthy missed most of his meals. He was expected to do errands in the house and soon he transformed to a caretaker of the house. To open the door when children gets back from school, open the door to the maid help, attend phone calls and note down the messages, guard the house, collect gas and milk, soon Ramamurthy started feeling unworthy, and felt charm of his life is wearing off. He decided to complain to his son with all authority and love he thought he had over his son, the reply from his was a rude shock. “Appa why can’t you adjust, when you get older you should learn to adjust” he added a piece of advise to his old father.
To beat the monotony, he decided to call his friends home and they happily visited him, same evening Ramamaurthy over heard his daughter-in-law, shouting at his son and complaining how messy was the house because of his father calling people home and having a party. Grand children getting the vibes from their mom, they started complaining too. Ever since grandfather started living in “their house” they cannot invite friends to sleep over, the additional room being occupied by grandfather. They find fault with their grandfather listening to TV in loud volume and complains it disturbs their studies. The worst of all for Ramamurthy, was his son not able to comprehend his real situation but expects him to adjust, where he is not only adjusting but compromised many of his life comforts and happiness.
Ramamurthy hit the rude reality; life in his son’s house is not what he deserves. He wanted to run out of the house packing his stuff but where to? He has no pension to fend for if he breaks free! He reminisced the good old days, living independently. He suddenly recollects his dear friend who advised him that it is suicidal to give away all the wealth to children when you are still healthy and active. He calls him over the phone and explained his plight and repent for not taking his friend’s advises earlier.
Ramamurthy was no longer the same person; his dear friends got a rude shock to see how diminished his friend’s condition was. A person always seen in white crisp neatly pressed shirt, is no longer able to maintain the same lifestyle. Due to poor emotional health, shrunk social life, poor nutrition, mental and physical health took a downhill. He was no more interested in grooming, eating or even taking bath, no one at home took any notice of the debilitating changes happening to Ramamurthy.
Over a period of time, son found the most convenient reason to institutionalize his father. “He doesn’t talk to people, ne needs to be reminded of bath, hair-cuts, shaving, grooming and eating” That is when he met us asking the possibilities of the institutionalized care. Upon checking, there was no psychiatric evaluation been done, reason was illogical “father doesn’t like to go to a psychiatrist he was an independent and healthy person”.
The complicated and detailed case study discussed here, is a classic example of mismanagement of one’s wealth and independence. This is not an isolated situation in our society but many older people do not open up fearing the image of their children and family.
As the vulnerability of older people increases, their dependence on family members also increases thus making them vulnerable and helpless. Now-a-days financial abuse is a universal menace, and fastest-growing, type of abuse of older people. It involves taking or misusing an older person’s money, property or assets. It also takes different forms like persuading an older person to change their will through deception or undue influence. Sometimes greedy children are “extorting” their parents into becoming guarantors for their home loans against their will. And it’s happening right here in our own backyard, property-related elder financial abuse is becoming the most common form of elder abuse. Often the old parents do not want to say “No” to their adult children’s requests for money or asset transfers for fear of upsetting these relationships.
Those children who are eager to inherit wealth may justify their actions by saying: “Mum and Dad don’t need money now, but I do” or “The money is going to be mine anyway” or “When are we going to enjoy these estates”. Our experience as social gerontologists shows that women over the age of 80 are most at risk of financial elder abuse, with adult sons being the most common perpetrators. A very common assumption in our biased society is that older people, particularly women, are unable to manage their finances.
Past six months we compiled our findings of wealth mismanagement by adult children and immediate relatives especially on the issue of the children suffering from early inheritance syndrome. Our study shows the following. Majority have a firm sense of entitlement. They see parent’s homes as an asset that has already been paid off and think because they will eventually inherit it they deserve it now. Why wait? One woman (name withheld) came out of hospital to find her children had sold her home without her knowledge and she was homeless.
Krishnamurthi’s story is the best example for any prudent person to understand the need to preserve the financial freedom in old age. We agree that till things go wrong you will not have any valid reason to disbelieve your children. But why take chances. A small oversight can damage your own existence. Today we have hundreds of cases of neglect, abuse due to mismanagement of wealth, and these examples around us can help us draw our own life plans, not leaving it to our children.
Ideally speaking, it is true that we love our children, no doubt they love us back in many folds, and they were our old age assurance. On the contrary, a sea change has happened in our society and in our relationships in the past few decades and it is suicidal to overindulge in children. Breaking the stereotype mindset and accepting the changes in the society and to your own families, can make us more realistic in thinking and pragmatic in action. We are used to part with our wealth to our offspring’s when our mind is intact and rest of our lives will be in the hands of our children. It was not part of our life to plan wealth for our infirm years! That’s the past.
Remember, times have changed.
Remember, more years are added to your lifespan.
Remember, there is a possibility of continued infirmity.
Remember, you may need long term care.
Remember, finally everything boils down to your financial freedom.
Don’t be a sitting duck like Ramamurthy.