More Than Money
Issue #32

Passing the Torch: The Great Wealth Transfer

Table of Contents

“Ensuring Your Legacy”

Your True Intentions: Legal Protection

By Richard D. Tanner

You’ve seen shocking reports of family financial feuds in the most respectable publications lately. Though the news stories may sound like tabloid fodder, even in “good” families, there are cases of children suing their parents over money, grandchildren suing trustees, and lawyers suing lawyers.

The Videotape Solution
If your attorney advises you to do a better job of documenting your intentions when you transfer wealth, it’s to prevent future complications. Those who consider themselves “rightful heirs” might feel slighted by your decisions and sue to overturn them. To be sure your true intentions are carried out, one option is to have yourself videotaped as you discuss your intent. With a written document, even an ethical will, a plaintiff could argue that you were coerced into leaving him or her out of your will. That is harder to argue convincingly when others can see and hear you discussing your intentions on videotape.

The Family Wealth Letter of Intent
Another new development in planning for high net worth families is the field of “wealth counseling” to help people better understand the social, emotional, and spiritual aspects of money. This approach helps people gain clarity about life purpose through focusing on a personal or family mission, vision, values, and goals. The process sometimes begins with a retreat and leads to a “family wealth letter of intent.” This document acts as a blueprint to communicate your intentions to heirs and financial advisors, and even, in some cases, your employees. Broader than an ethical will, it provides guidelines for professional advisors, while expressing personal sentiments and reflections to heirs.
    The family wealth letter of intent is the culmination of a process that allows you to gain clarity about your intentions regarding family legacy and responsibilities to others. At our firm, for example, we might work with a client to plan for transition in a family business. As part of a broad legacy plan, our client might consider selling the family business to the employees, while integrating social values by using some of the sale’s proceeds for philanthropy. We help people make wise decisions about their money in a way that integrates their mission, vision, values, and goals. The family wealth letter of intent (and accompanying video) doesn’t replace the need for a will or an attorney, but it can help your advisors better understand your intentions in order to more accurately create legal and financial instruments that reflect your wishes.

Richard D. Tanner is a partner and family member of The Koptis Organization and president of Ownership Advisors, Inc. ( www. ownershipadvisors.com ). He counsels individuals and corporations on creative ways to accumulate, conserve, and transfer wealth.


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