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Balancing heart and head in inheritance decisions

Striking the right balance between emotion and logic is often a tricky challenge when making decisions.

We often conceptualize this very-human challenge as heart versus head. It's a challenge that often comes up in estate-planning contexts regarding what to do with a family inheritance.

In this post, we will discuss some of the ways that the interplay between sentiment and strategy is affecting many baby boomers, both in Massachusetts and across the nation.

For many members of the Baby Boom generation, the question of whether to keep or sell property inherited from their parents creates a tug of war between heart and head.

For example, the New York Times reported recently on a 50-year-old Boston-area woman who inherited a cherished farmhouse in New Hampshire from her parents a few years ago. The house had been her parents' vacation home.

The woman had strong emotional ties to the house. It meant a lot to her emotionally, given the connection to her parents that it symbolized.

Using her head as well as her heart, however, the woman knew she should do a clear-sighted calculation of the true cost of keeping up the house. After due deliberation, and the passage of time, she finally concluded that she should sell the house.

Of course, the assets that heirs inherit include many other types of property besides houses. But even with more abstract assets such as stocks, the pull of the parental past can exert an influence on heirs' investment decisions.

In short, decisions that pit reason and emotion are playing out throughout the nation as the parents of baby boomers die and pass on their wealth. This dynamic happens across all income levels, regardless of the size of wealth transfers involved.

Source: The New York Times, "When Boomers Inherit, Complications May Follow," Fran Hawthorne, Feb. 10, 2014

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