Blowing a $4 Million Inheritance?

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If you're thinking about leaving an inheritance, then it may be wise to distribute funds slowly and to present some guidelines for your resources.

Q: I read a story recently in the Washington Post about a frugal librarian who drove an old car, carried his lunch, and spent next to nothing on himself, making it possible for him to save $4 million that he donated to the school he loved, the University of New Hampshire, upon his death. But now there is a bit of controversy about how the money is being spent. Do you think it’s a mistake to save up money for others without proper instruction? It seems like the school is wasting this man’s legacy of financial stewardship.

A: I also found the story of Robert Morin inspiring. As a library cataloger for the school he loved and his alma mater, he worked almost 50 years, surrounded by books, enjoying the students and spending very little on himself. After his death, he bequeathed his entire estate to his employer, and it was assumed by many connected to the school that the library would have been the recipient of his large gift. But when $1 million went to a new scoreboard it caused a lot of controversy.

Alumna Claire Cortese wrote: “I am honestly ashamed of and embarrassed by my alma mater’s decision to waste Morin's generous gift on a frivolous toy. The money could be spent on a cause that would truly, positively impact the lives of the university’s students. It could have changed lives. I doubt any student will look back in ten years and say ‘man, that video scoreboard - that really impacted my experience at UNH in a meaningful and beneficial way.’”

It is worth considering whether a scoreboard is the best legacy for a man of such frugality. The trustees of UNH will have to make that decision. But what strikes me as truly impressive, and frankly a lesson for us all is how a simple man, living carefully and debt free, could build up such an inheritance. Sometimes in our complex and expensive society, people can become discouraged and feel like it just isn’t possible to build up resources while living an ordinary life.

Morin is a great example of how little by little, anyone can build up wealth. Just like the Bible says. Proverbs 13:11 notes, “Whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.”

I have found over the years that while people always want to hear about some amazing stock tip, lottery story or unicorn business tale, the truth is that money is best multiplied by a few simple guidelines, and slowly over time.

Step one: Spend less than you make … always.

Step two: Give a tithe to the Lord to honor and acknowledge Him because your ability to earn money comes from His blessing.

Step three: Set aside money for emergencies … using only for emergencies.

Step four: Once the emergency account is funded, continue to save regularly… with every check.

Step five: Diversify investments into opportunities that you understand.

I know this isn’t flashy. But it works. 

You can begin this simple process by building a functional budget, so that you can track expenses and make sure that you have a plan to meet your obligations and save for your future.

But when it comes to preparing an inheritance, it can be wise to distribute it slowly and to present some guidelines, making a plan for the resources. Proverbs 20:21 advises, “An inheritance claimed too soon will not be blessed at the end.” The Bible has many instructions about how property is to be handed down, and it is clear from the scripture that God cares about the careful handling of resources, going from one generation to the next.

Proverbs 13:22 notes: “A good man leaves an inheritance to his grandchildren, but the sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.”

I applaud Morin’s kind gift to his school, and his desire to see students educated in the place that he loved. I’ll leave it to those involved at the school to debate how best to spend that money. But I commend his example to us all – to live frugally, steward what we have and save up to care for the next generation.

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