Investor and philanthropist Eugene Lang, whom The New York Times calls "an American folk hero," died on Saturday at the age of 98. The self-made millionaire founded the "I Have a Dream Foundation," which helps to send underprivileged children to college, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
But though Lang gave away $150 million and helped 16,000 students over the course of his lifetime , he made one thing very clear to his own kids: They shouldn't expect to inherit anything from him after his death.
Lang had three children, and, People Magazine reported in 1990, he "resolved not to leave them a dime of his [then] estimated $50 million fortune." In fact:
Eugene believes so strongly that his kids should fend for themselves that he's not leaving an inheritance to Stephen or his two older siblings, Jane, an attorney, and David, a vice president at REFAC. "Look," says Eugene, "I gave them good educations and every encouragement to make it on their own. They should be able to stand tall."
The son of working-class immigrants, Lang himself attended Swarthmore College at the age of 15 on a scholarship, and he believed strongly in the power of education, which is why he made it the focus of his philanthropic efforts. Having sent his own children to good schools, he didn't see why they also needed inherited wealth.
In 2006, USA Today reported that the philanthropist hadn't changed his mind.
After putting his three children through college, he says, he expected them to be essentially self-sufficient.
"A good education is to learn to be self-supporting so that they can build their own inheritance," Lang says. "I never believed in luxuries. I still pick up a penny on the street."
Apparently his children didn't feel deprived. Stephen Lang told People he saw the wisdom of his father's choice.
"My father has a very healthy respect for what money can do but ultimately thinks it's quite a corrupting thing," says Stephen. "The major thing Dad's given me has been his support and inspiration. In that sense I'm as rich as anyone."
He became an award-winning actor, appearing on Broadway, TV and in films such as "A Few Good Men" and "Avatar." His sister Jane became an accomplished lawyer and philanthropist, and his brother David became a musician and composer.
Billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates also advise against passing money on to your children, or at least too much. They prefer to invest the bulk of their fortunes where the funds can do the most good. According to USA Today:
Calling heirs of the rich the "lucky sperm club," Buffett compares inherited wealth to choosing the Olympic team from the children of Olympians. It's unfair to children, he says, and to society.