On a recent episode of Slate's parenting podcast Mom and Dad are Fighting, a caller brings up a difficult question: Assuming you're wealthy, how much money should you leave to your children when you die?
Hosts Gabriel Roth and Carvell Wallace hail from very different backgrounds and yet come up with the same answer: Leave some to your children — enough to go to college and get started in life — and give the rest to charity.
Many wealthy parents fret about this decision, worrying that too much money could actually harm their children. That's partly why some American business moguls go even further. Self-made millionaire Eugene Lang set his kids up for success by not leaving them a dime, for example. Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett and others say they don't plan to leave their children much or any money at all.
Based on Roth's own experiences, though, he and Wallace suggest a compromise.
Roth received "a moderate inheritance" from his grandparents in his 20s, he says, which allowed him to experiment and formulate a plan for his future. A financial cushion, especially when you're starting out, he says, can be "a wonderful thing."
But "too much money," he admits, can be a hindrance.
"We all know that there are kids who inherit too much money and it spoils them and their lives are ruined by it," says Roth. "They never have to figure out how to make their [own] way in the world, what they are able to do or how they can contribute [to society]."
How much is best? "It's good for them to be able to go to college and come out without any loans … [to have] some amount of money beyond the point [of] spoiling."
Wallace, who didn't receive any inheritance, agrees.
"There is a threshold at which it matters that you have a certain amount of income, [but] there is a point at which it doesn't make you happy. I know some people who had unlimited money to the point where they never had to do anything, and ... some were miserable and unhappy.
"So, this idea," he adds, "I think bears repeating." Even "all the money in the world" won't guarantee you a good life.
Wallace says that a modest inheritance could have been a huge help to him: It would have eased his cost-of-living burden so that he wouldn't have had to work several jobs at once and given him the chance to explore his options.
"If you are able to, particularly in your young adulthood, have the freedom to pursue something that you care about, that is important, that you love, that you need to build a foundation in, but doesn't necessarily pay the bills, that is the dividing point right there," says Wallace.
"Leave your kids enough money that they can, for two years, not have to worry about paying rent. Donate the rest to charity. That's it."
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