You can’t take it with you, so should you give it away now?

You can’t take it with you. Most of us know that aphorism, apparently first used in the early 1800s. “He was very fond of money; but that they said was all the better, as he could not take it away with him when he died.” So wrote Frederick Marryat in his 1841 book Masterman Ready.

George Kaufmann and Moss Hart’s 1936 play, You Can’t Take It With You, gave the phrase mainstream currency. Two years later, Jimmy Stewart’s starring role in a film of the same name, entrenched the phrase in popular culture.

More than half a century later, in 1989, Aussie icon Paul Kelly wrote a song with that title. Today, it still features in the vernacular in countries around the world.

Nice history lesson, but what does ‘You can’t take it with you’ mean for over-50s?

That’s a fair question. Marryat’s book, Kaufman and Hart’s play and the 1938 film serve as nice little life reminders. But knowing that you can’t take your worldly possessions with you when you die, what practical steps should you take?

In terms of inheritance, of either money or physical possessions – house, cars, furniture, etc – you have two broad choices. You can leave it to your kids to manage after you pass on (preferably with the help of a will). Or, you could pass on your assets while you’re still breathing.

Three years ago, as the COVID pandemic was taking hold worldwide, US fund manager Bill Perkins published Die With Zero. As you can probably guess from the book’s title, Mr Perkins strongly advocates spending all you have while you’re still here.

That’s not to say he thinks you should ignore the potential inheritors of your wealth. Rather, he believes that all parties will benefit if you spend and give away all you have while you’re living.

Nine rules for life – and death

Mr Perkins is driven by a philosophy that we should all strive to maximise net fulfilment over net worth. Die With Zero sets out nine rules to help you achieve that aim.

The nine rules are:

  1. maximise your positive life experiences
  2. start investing in life experiences early
  3. aim to die with zero
  4. use all available tools to help you die with zero
  5. give money to your children or to charity when it has the most impact
  6. don’t live your life on autopilot
  7. think of your life as distinct seasons
  8. know when to stop growing your wealth
  9. take your biggest risks when you have nothing to lose.

Some of those rules are relatively self-explanatory, others not so much. Of course, Mr Perkins wants you to head over to his website and buy his book. And for some, doing so will be a worthwhile investment. James Gruber, assistant editor for Firstlinks and, found it to be so.

But even a quick scan of the rules as a single sentence can serve as a thought provoker and conversation starter. And for most of us, that will likely be a positive thing. Just as Mr Perkins’ American compatriots are, baby boomers in Australia are getting older, dying richer and leaving behind larger bequests.

So it makes sense to have discussions with family about what you all want from life, while everyone’s still here.

It’s an old, perhaps even worn phrase, but ‘you can’t take it with you’ could well serve as a starting point to you and your family getting more out of life.

Have you thought about what you would like to do with your wealth? Would you consider taking on the ‘die with zero’ philosophy? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Inheritance: Can you avoid financial family feuds?

Disclaimer: All content on YourLifeChoices website is of a general nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It has been prepared with due care but no guarantees are provided for the ongoing accuracy or relevance. Before making a decision based on this information, you should consider its appropriateness in regard to your own circumstances. You should seek professional advice from a financial planner, lawyer or tax agent in relation to any aspects that affect your financial and legal circumstances.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


    • I think it is important to look after yourself so that you can live without being a burden on your children. The Age Pension is very unfair. Everyone over a certain age should receive an Age Pension and file a tax return like they do in many other countries. Then one can help family without being penalised for it.

      • I fully agree, Rosie. Australia to my knowledge is the meanest so-called developed country when it comes to age pension. The more you earn in your life the more tax you pay and the more you should be entitled to an age pension. We have it the wrong way round here, which is a huge disincentive to people being self responsible. Classic nanny state! The more we depend on government the more enslaved we become, just remember covid. I knew many who had no choice but get vaccinated against their own best judgement just to keep a roof over their head and the family fed.

  1. We didn’t get a $ from our parents until they passed away. The only asset they had was their home. There were no horrendous fees for going into care, it was free.
    We occasionally give our kids some help, but not on a regular basis.
    Our biggest expense in the future is going to be either home help or care fees so dying with no $ is out of the question.

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