During the next 25 years, the U.S. will experience the largest transfer of wealth in modern history. An estimated $84.4 trillion will shift into the next generation’s hands. If your household, your family, is among those participating in that transfer, doing it well will affect the lives of the people in your family, their descendants, and the life of our society.
Making the wealth transfer process work well takes real thought and consideration. An acquaintance who worked in the private wealth management department of a bank told a story of a family that was so contentious about the wealth being passed on to them that, after days of fruitless wrangling, he had to lock them in a room and tell them he wouldn’t let them out until they settled their differences.
Wealth transfer doesn’t have to be — and shouldn’t be — like this. It can and should be a team effort that considers the needs, wants, skills, dreams, and passions of everyone involved. Sure, people need to know about estate plans, trust documents, asset allocation, investment policies, and more, but the “soft” issues are actually the hardest to deal with.
Soft issues include questions such as: What does wealth mean in my family? What are family values? What is its culture? What do I want to achieve with my wealth for the family and for society? How do we establish an environment in which we effectively communicate the values, culture, and perspectives of individual members and the collective family?
Imparting knowledge and values shouldn’t be a one-way street. The incoming generation’s values may be different from the outgoing generation’s values and they may want to do things with wealth that have never before been considered. This is why a team approach is most effective.
Here are some conversation starters to assist in wealth transfer discussions among the outgoing and incoming generations:
1. What is the true legacy you want to pass on with the family wealth?
Is that legacy measured in dollars and cents, or is the legacy measured in personal and/or societal impact? Everyone involved in a wealth transfer needs to think about and discuss what wealth means, what the family values are, why they want to pass the money on, and what those who receive it want to do with it.
2. What do the individual members hope to do with the wealth?
Do the people with this family wealth want to build a business empire? Create more equitable workplace environments? Work to lessen their environmental impact? Or establish a charitable foundation? In what way will members use the family’s support to perpetuate their personal success and fulfillment? If descendants find themselves fulfilled in their life’s work, whatever that is, then what better legacy could there be for a multigenerational family of wealth?
3. How will those being handed the baton run their leg of the relay race?
Wealth management and transfer are like running a relay race. The first runner is the one who initially created the family wealth. The baton represents wealth itself. The other relay team members are the generations to whom that wealth will be passed. And yes, passing the baton is often the trickiest part. But even if the passing of the baton is smooth, each runner must know how to make the most of their passion and strengths to advance the baton as successfully as possible. Additionally, each runner should always keep in mind that they are meant to also help those who come after them to run the next leg successfully.
If every generation in a wealthy family nurtures the next generation with affirmation and support — conveying that they are trusted and honored — the family will have a legacy of success.
Steve Braverman is a co-founder, former co-CEO, and now co-Chairman of Pathstone, an advisory firm to help clients create, manage, and preserve wealth across generations. His book, Your Time with the Baton – Winning the Relay Race of Family Wealth Stewardship (Advantage, March 7, 2023), shares how to embrace the opportunity of wealth management and transfer. Learn more at yourbatontime.com.
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