At a family reunion, we were discussing wills and whether we had our affairs in order.

My Dad said — with a marvellous but perhaps deliberate slip of the tongue — that everything was up-to-date, and that he had given me lasting power of eternity. Which sounds wonderful but is not something, as far as I know, any law firm can guarantee. The pandemic has intensified the issue of inheritance. According to UK consumer experts, there was an eightfold increase in people making wills during the first lockdown. 

At the same time, there’s been a huge backlog in dealing with probate — the process of administering the wills of the deceased and distributing inheritance. Economist Thomas Piketty says we are now living in an inheritance society.

With asset prices outstripping wages, we’re heading to a situation where the bulk of wealth comes from inheritance, not work. 

It is estimated that USA millennials will inherit more than $68 trillion dollars from their boomer parents by 2030 — potentially the biggest collective wealth transfer in history. An inheritance can be a blessing. But it can also be a curse, bending lives out of shape, destroying relationships, leaving a legacy of strife and bitterness. It can be too much, too little or too late; creating a state of false hope in something that can’t be guaranteed. 

In the famous parable, the prodigal son demands his inheritance while his father is still alive. A serious insult in that culture, but perhaps a sign of things to come given the wealth gap emerging between the generations. At a family reunion, we were discussing wills and whether we had our affairs in order. The psalmist wrote that all can see wise men and fools die; leaving their wealth to others, they can take nothing with them. When it comes to inheritance the Bible offers little encouragement in the way of chattels, but it makes some lavish promises about being God’s heirs and inheriting the earth. 

Hanging on my wall is a collage of Saint Francis of Assisi that I inherited from my Gran. She made it herself out of discarded bits of material. Though it’s not worth much, it’s precious: for it depicts a man who gave up his considerable worldly inheritance — much to his earthly father’s astonishment — to pursue the lasting power of eternity.