For families with significant wealth, preserving this wealth from one generation to the next is often a central focus. And it’s a goal for good reason, as data shows that 90% of families deplete their wealth by the end of the third generational wealth transfer.
Cultures around the world have come up with sayings to describe the process of families building—and subsequently losing—their hard-earned assets. In America, it’s “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”; in Italy, it’s known as “from the stalls to the stars to the stall again”; and in China, it’s “from peasant shoes to peasant shoes in three generations.”
The first generation is often born into a life of struggles, and they are determined to have a better life for their family. They work hard and sacrifice a lot to achieve their dreams of an easier life. If they are successful, they can pass down a legacy of wealth to their children.
The second generation witnesses firsthand the struggles and hardships their parents endure. They recognize the hard work and sacrifices that were made and, as a result, they appreciate the wealth they inherit and often work to build even greater wealth. Our financial tendencies are etched into our being by the age of 7, so the second generation tends to draw heavily on their childhood, and they make wise decisions to honor their parents.
The third generation, the grandchildren of the legacy, often have no recollection of struggle. They only know a life of abundance, and they often lack appreciation for the hard work and sacrifice that was required to build their family’s legacy. It’s the third generation that often squanders the family’s wealth.
In most cases, the problem with the third generation is not a lack of financial, tax, or investment planning by their matriarchs and patriarchs. More often, the root causes are a lack of communication between generations, a lack of education for the next generation, and an unclear understanding of the purpose of their family’s wealth.
We strive to help clients be in the 10% of families that maintain their wealth for generations to come. In our experience, organizing a series of family meetings can help provide a venue for the family to share the family’s story and values along with education on more technical information. This is often a great starting point for that journey.
What Is A Family Meeting?
In the same way that successful companies have regular meetings to set the direction of the organization, a family meeting is meant to facilitate communication and strategic planning among members of your family. Family meetings are important occasions for parents to communicate about opportunities and challenges with the family’s wealth, model their values, share their experiences, and set expectations for their children. After all, no matter how good your strategy is for your family, it means nothing if the next generation doesn’t understand that strategy or the reasons behind it.
A good family meeting can be educational; however, it shouldn’t just be an “information dump.” The goal is to ensure your children can digest and understand what you are telling them and give them an opportunity to ask questions and discuss. And while it can be tempting to try and keep these discussions casual, it’s important that family meetings feel separate and distinct from the average dinner-table conversation.
Define Your Mission and Vision
To effectively communicate your wishes for your family’s wealth, you need to clearly define your goals for this wealth and have an idea of how the next generation can build on those goals. You also need to ensure the next generation feels a connection to the “why” behind your wealth.
Before sitting down with your heirs, it’s a good idea to ask yourself these questions:
- How much of our wealth do we want to transfer to our children and others we care about?
- What does a fulfilled life mean for us and future generations?
- How do we share our time, talents, and treasures with others?
- How do we expect our heirs to shepherd our resources?
- How do we prepare our children for the opportunities and responsibilities of the future?
Your answers to these questions will inform how you approach these important discussions about wealth with your children or grandchildren.
Share Your Financial Journey
The idea of inheriting significant wealth can make your heirs feel a lot of pressure not to squander it—and that pressure can lead to inaction or even suboptimal decision-making. Sharing your financial journey is not only a great way to help your loved ones understand your attitude towards your finances and your goals for the family’s wealth, but to foster more productive conversations about the challenges and blessings that come with this legacy.
If you struggled financially earlier in your life, don’t be afraid to share that with your heirs. This can be a powerful way to help them see beyond the money and understand the story behind your wealth. These stories can also help teach them about potential financial pitfalls and how to avoid them. Showing your heirs that everyone makes mistakes—even you—can encourage them to communicate more openly about aspects of financial planning and managing wealth that they are uncertain about or may be struggling with.
Hold Regular Meetings
Trying to fit your family’s entire financial history and a lifetime’s worth of financial education into one meeting almost guarantees that your heirs won’t retain as much as they could. Instead, consider making family meetings a regular occurrence in your household, with each meeting focusing on one specific aspect of your family’s wealth.
The first meeting could focus on your family’s story: your family’s history with wealth and the values that have helped build and maintain this wealth so far. This is also a good time to share the purpose of this wealth — what money means to you now and what its “job” is going forward.
In subsequent meetings, you can shift focus to protecting wealth: budgeting principles, understanding credit, tips for managing risk, insurance coverage, and the importance of working with the family’s network of trusted advisors. Building that baseline understanding will make it easier to have the “big conversation” on transferring wealth, in which you will share the details of your estate plan.
By saving the more complex technical details for later, your heirs will have an easier time grasping the “why” behind the structure of your wealth and the estate planning decisions you made. And by covering all these areas individually, your heirs will have a clear understanding of your family philosophy towards wealth and the steps you have taken to build, manage, and protect your wealth.
Making these meetings a regular occurrence increases the likelihood that the information you share will be retained. And as your heirs continue to increase their understanding of each new concept, you’ll likely find that they start asking the important questions on their own. Communication will be better. They will be educated and understand their family’s legacy. And they will feel they belong to and are a part of the mission and vision for the family’s future legacy.
How We Can Help
Hopefully, this information will serve as a good overview of family meetings and the important role they can play in preserving family wealth, but it’s critical to note that every family is unique. The order of operations shared here may work great for some families, but for others, it may need some refinement.
At SWP, we help families manage generational wealth—and the family dynamics that come with it—to achieve their near-term objectives while defining the vision and values that are the framework for a meaningful financial legacy.
If you would like help organizing a series of family meetings that are personalized to your objectives and unique family dynamics, we invite you to connect with our team.
 NASDAQ, Generation Wealth: Why do 70% of Families Lost Their Wealth in the 2nd Generation (link)
 Motley Fool, Financial Habits Are Learned by Age 7. Here Are 4 Ways to Give Your Kids a Head Start. (link)
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