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 Inheritance Impatience – it’s all going to be mine anyway!

Inheritance Impatience – it’s all going to be mine anyway!

“Inheritance impatience” what a sophisticated term to drop into a conversation, well I guess it really depends on what types of conversation we engage in!  However, in reality what we mean is someone that is, an adult child (usually) is looking for what they believe is their right to their parent’s hard earned money and they don’t want to wait until “the will is read” and they receive their “entitlements” they want the money now, after all it’s going to be theirs anyway – isn’t it, so why not have it now when they really need it? That may sound cynical but it’s not uncommon.

Having said that it’s not uncommon we really don’t have any idea of the actual figures associated with inheritance impatience as it takes many forms and not every parent wants known what their family dynamics are, particularly when those dynamics are associated with inheritance impatience.  

Some adult children may take advantage of their role as an attorney pursuant to either a Enduring Power of Attorney or even a General Power of Attorney (see the earlier article on “Planning for Life – well, one aspect of it.”) We do hear of situations where a parent, prior to losing mental capacity, appoints one, or more, of their children as their attorney/s and then the child uses the power of attorney to withdraw funds, perhaps for school fees, payment of living expenses, holidays or even investments. When asked why the standard response is “Mum (or dad) always helped us out, they would want us to continue the same lifestyle.”

Other times the situation is not quite so benign. It has been known for adult children to use the power of attorney to sell their parent’s home, pocket the proceeds of sale and place their parent/s into a residential aged care facility or perhaps put them into a granny flat situation.

It’s not always through the use (or misuse) of a power of attorney that this occurs. Sometimes it can occur because the parent is older, vulnerable and in need of the care of one of their children. In such cases the child may be in a position to exert undue influence on their parent in an attempt (often successful) to gain a financial advantage for themselves, and subsequent financial disadvantage for the parent.


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We have to remember though that there are many parents who willingly assist their children financially and who are financially in a position to do so in which case it is a win win situation for both generations.

What we do know is that inheritance impatience may be considered elder abuse. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Elder Abuse as “ . . . a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person”.

In a 2017 study it was found that 15.7% of people aged 60 years and over had been the victims of some form of elder abuse in the previous year (WHO, 8th June 2018).

However, in Australia estimates of how many older Australians are the victims of elder abuse, is at its best, a guestimate.  According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare “ . . . data on elder abuse in Australia  . . . are currently not comprehensively collected or reported” (Australia’s Welfare 2017).

The recently released Australian Law Reform Commission’s Report ‘Elder Abuse – a national legal response’ (ALRC Report 131) provides a most comprehensive examination of the subject, as well as making over 40 recommendations in areas as diverse as superannuation, banking, powers of attorney, aged care and family agreements – to name a few.

There has for many years now been a lively debate about whether or not there should be mandatory reporting of elder abuse. Proponents for mandatory reporting argue that mandatory reporting will assist in the cessation of the abuse. Opponents of mandatory reporting usually start with the two questions “well, how old is old and at what age should a victim be when it becomes mandatory to report the abuse?” We know that “old” is a subjective concept. Ask a teenager what age they consider to be “old” and they are just as likely to say “40”! When I ask students “how old is old” some will reply “older than you”!  And at my age that is an answer I think is “just right”.

However, perhaps it is not age that is the determining factor in who may be a victim of elder abuse, but rather vulnerability, in whatever form that may take. For example the person may be physically or mentally impaired, it may be that the person is from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, they may be someone who lives in isolation, they may even be someone who has a limited education and does not know where to seek help or what is worse is not even aware that they have rights.

I have always believed that education and support are the key elements in the fight against elder abuse. But whatever the reason for the abuse we do know that it is universally agreed that with an ageing population the issue will only increase.

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