and more, people are questioning the norms they were given
about wealth. The old rules: "Money isn't a child's
concern; keep your finances a secret. Don't let your kids
know what's in your will. Pass wealth to the next generation.
Keep control." Here are stories from people struggling
with these strictures, and stories from others experimenting
with new ways to educate their children about money and
to pass it on.
unexpected sale of my grandfather's business gave me several
million dollars in my early twenties. I signed the money
into a "revocable" trust with the family lawyer--but
now he won't agree to revoke it!
father and I go round and round about it: I express my
fury about feeling powerless, then he gets mad that I
don't seem grateful. I just hate that some lawyer who
has no inkling of who I really am has the power to decide
what's in my "welfare and benefit!" "Trusts"
should really be called "distrusts." You don't
give your children a car and then sit in the back seat
whenever they drive--you teach them to drive and then
let them do it, even though a crash is always possible.
want my daughter Liz, who is 10 now, to have a different
experience. She'll get the money outright--but later in
life. I'm not concerned she'll mishandle it. It's just
too hard to get money in your 20's, when you're just figuring
out who you are. I want Liz to know what she can accomplish
on her own energies; to know that her friendships are
not influenced by her money.
will stipulates the money come to her after she has supported
herself for 20 years. By then she'll know who she is,
or she never will.
ironic. The lawyer lectures me that the money is there
"just to protect me" and it belongs mainly to
the future. I argue that most people don't need a million
dollars in the bank just in case they get in trouble.
Yet, as difficult as wealth has been for me, I can't imagine
not giving it to my daughter. It's like a set of china
that gets passed down from generation to generation. Here,
this is yours, it is part of being in this family.
want to give my daughter a hand in becoming self-supporting,
but no way do I want to make her rich. Wealth sidetracked
me from taking responsibility for my own life in this
economy. It's done me no good to flounder around in that
freedom--supposedly so marvelous, but in reality, the
freedom to lead an unreal existence.
will leaves everything in a trust, with Mary's guardian
as trustee. With input from Mary, the money can be used
for education, help with housing and whatever will assist
her to get on her own feet in early adulthood. Once her
material life is stable--and she and her guardian will
decide this together--the trust will be turned over to
a charitable fund, with close friends named as decision-makers.
never considered my inheritance mine, so I don't consider
it my daughter's either. It's a product of an out-of-kilter
society where money can be endlessly accumulated. My wealth
belongs in the arena where it can make society work better
daughter Janice, thirteen at the time, expressed great
interest in art museums. When I told her at dinner one
night she could be an art historian, she replied, "But
how can I make any money doing that?" This is ridiculous--a
girl with plenty of money whose friends are indoctrinating
her that money is all that counts!
see this played out over and over again, even among rich
families--kids learning that a person's worth is measured
by their income. Kids should have to exert themselves
but not necessarily to earn money.
scheme I can think of that's legal for giving my kids
money, they get it. Who else would handle the money better?
I tell them "I'm leaving you all this money, now
you make sure you do something really worthwhile for yourself,
your family, and the world." I'm spending time teaching
them how to do that--and letting them know that life is
for something besides earning money.
think inherited wealth is ludicrous, but I haven't the
moral courage to get rid of it all. I grew up knowing
I would inherit but not knowing the amount. I wanted to
be poor and hated the class system.
haven't decided what to do about telling the children.
It's not a secret, it's more like a mutual agreement not
to talk about it. It may be hypocritical, but I think
it's not good for kids to know too early. I'm dead against
sharing charitable giving decisions with our 14- and 12-year
olds. They don't need that guilt trip.
difficult. I want to do right by my girls, yet not give
them a wealth consciousness--where they might feel the
need to lie to friends or have problems making and keeping
friends. I don't want them to decide never to work. So
we've given Justine and Sara the impression they are no
better off than their peers.
girls' grandmother has money for them in a trust account.
There's nothing we can do about that. When they're older,
we would like to give the kids the option of inheriting
from us or not. Currently our wills do leave them money,
even though I can't justify it and I don't think it will
do them any good.
giving a good portion of my money away now. Why wait till
I die? My four grown children already have $300,000 each
from their grandfather's estate. When I was finally able
to redeem some old stock from the family company a few
years ago, I decided that my kids already had plenty and
put the entire six million dollars into the family foundation.
I felt great about it. I was acting congruently with my
deepest spiritual beliefs.
foundation has let me actually have fun with money in
a way I haven't experienced since childhood. My wife and
I involve the kids with the foundation, too, as much as
they're interested. They're each so different I can hardly
believe they were raised in the same family: one kid wants
to ignore money, another kid wants to give it all away,
one feels well-off enough, another wishes for more. I
certainly can't expect my choices to please them all!
as we age my wife and I will change our views, but this
is where we are for now. We give each kid about $20,000/year
(out of income from a charitable remainder trust) and
that's it. I was taught the traditional view that money
should stay in the family, so sometimes I still feel a
pull that I "ought" to leave them more. A while
back one of my sons chided me, "What will your grandchildren
think, with you giving so much away?" Well, I hope
they'll think that I'm holding a broad view of money and
taking their interests into account. I hope they'll see
that because I love them, I'm investing in making a better
world for them to inherit.
did I set up trusts for each of my children? Fear. Fear
that they'd end up penniless and homeless. My son has
had prolonged problems with addiction; my daughter always
wants to give every penny away. Did I teach them about
money when they were growing up? Not much. Why not? I
didn't know anything about parenting! Did anyone in those
Marks the Spot
all the serious debate about passing money on to our children,
we hit upon an idea that puts a little fun back into the
whole business. A while back we purchased $20,000 of gold
in Austrian coins as an investment. Instead of leaving
it in a vault somewhere, we had it sent to us and we've
buried it on our land in a secret spot.
our safety deposit box, along with a copy of our will
is a "treasure map" in a sealed envelope addressed
to our children. It's a fun way to pass on some of our
resources outside the realm of lawyers and wills and still
beat the relentless decay of inflation.
the Gut, Not the Mind
will directs the bulk of my assets to my son, Michael
(currently fifteen years old). This makes no sense, really.
He's competent and enthusiastic,
and has learned a lot about making a living from his non-monied
mom. But this decision comes from my guts, my "will,"
you might even say, not my intellect; he's my son, what's
mine is his.
Michael was young I started putting money into an account
for him, not realizing it would automatically become his
when he turned eighteen. I haven't told him about it yet,
and I do worry that the money (now $400,000) might separate
him from his peers and confuse him about work.
know many organizations need extra money more than Michael
does. I'm terribly concerned about the flow of events
in this country, and wish I could to do something effective
that expresses my political beliefs, principles, and hopes.
But I feel profound disconnection just writing a check.
I can't bear to do it anymore. No wonder my will directs
it all to Michael--it will probably stay that way until
I figure out what else sufficiently moves me.
Foundation for Adulthood
is poignant to watch one's children struggle. It's difficult
not to rescue them, and not to become co-dependent. But
we learned the hard way with my husband's children from
his first marriage.
were told to expect money all their lives, and it undermined
their motivation; their peers are only interested in how
thin they are and whether their golf skills are good enough.
They haven't needed to take the challenging steps to develop
themselves, so they have not done it.
decided to do it differently with our children. We wanted
them to learn that success and dignity in their lives
would come not from expecting family money, but rather
from paying attention each day to creating it for themselves.
our son D.J. was sixteen and a novice carpenter, my husband
and I bought him a run-down house across from the high
school. The understanding between us was that D.J. would
live there, sell it after graduation, and keep the profits
as the sum total of his inheritance. Fixing up this house
was a two-year, intensive, mother-and-son collaboration.
D.J. made design and building decisions, honed his carpentry
skills, learned roofing, plumbing and household accounting,
and grew enormously from living on his own.
people don't just need money, they need experience, skills,
the chance to make mistakes, and meaningful projects that
are under their own control. D.J. gained a lot more from
this undertaking than from being handed a trust fund--and
so did I.
I was around six I asked my father, "Are we millionaires?"
and he said, "We're comfortable. The important thing
is that we are good people. Having money isn't something
to be ashamed of--there are wonderful things we can do
with our money."
twelve or thirteen I started sitting in on meetings at
the family offices. It was explained to me what the family's
investments were, and my parents took me to visit some
of the companies we had investments in. When I was around
fourteen, I received outright one hundred percent of my
net worth--no strings attached. I guess my parents just
assumed from day one that we were going to be responsible.
They didn't think they needed to put the money in trust
and make us jump through various hoops in order to get
it. I felt very well prepared, and I was never ashamed
of having wealth.
Henry Baldwin (From
The Legacy of Inherited Wealth,
Blouin, Gibson, and Kiersted, Trio Press, 1995). Adapted
with permission. Available for $18 ppd. from the Inheritance
Project, 3291 Deer Run Rd., Blacksburg, VA 24060.
from the Heart
was totally unprepared for what happened at the first
estate-planning meeting I held with my wife and grown
daughters. Rather matter-of-factly, I had viewed the meeting
as an extension of my parental responsibility to expand
my children's worldly knowledge--to give them hands-on
experience with financial planning and with the legal,
accounting, and investment advisors involved. For me,
it wasn't much different from taking them to the ballet
or Independence Hall when they were young.
true consultant's fashion, I set up charts and graphs
just as I would for clients, and dove into the intricacies
of taxes and inheritance laws. Then my next-to-youngest,
Mary Beth, tearfully burst out, "This isn't just
actuarial data, Dad! You're talking about when you're
going to die! I don't feel ready to deal with that!"
The agenda changed abruptly.
spent the next several hours talking from our hearts,
confronting a topic that most families avoid. I felt overwhelmed
hearing how much I'm loved now and will be missed. The
meeting didn't change much what happened in the estate
plan--our next session dealt with the numbers--but it
brought communication among us to a much deeper level.
Now, when I facilitate "family legacy meetings"
for others, I have a good guess of what needs to be on
the opening agenda!
information about the Center for Family Legacy, contact
Jim at 3636 Paradise Rd., Tiburon CA 94920.
first day of school the teacher asked each student, "What
does your father do?" I didn't know, so I asked my
mother. "Investments," she replied. When I told
the teacher, she probed further. "Is he a stock broker?"
I didn't know, so that evening I asked Mother.
but he has a farm--tell them he's a farmer." That
answer led to ridicule when the students discovered I
didn't live on a farm and couldn't milk a cow. Mummy's
next suggestion: "A banker--he did own one, or at
least a controlling interest."
he a teller or the bank manager?" the teacher inquired.
I explained he didn't actually work at the bank. Finally
the teacher called my mother and said that I seemed to
have a problem telling the truth about my father's work.
politely assured her that my father would clear up any
misunderstanding. When at last I confronted Daddy with
the big question, he said, "I clip coupons, Son."
[ed. note: lingo for redeeming bonds.] The next day there
was another call home from my teacher. Mummy got very
cross with Daddy for that. From then on I envied kids
whose fathers "did" something, especially dads
who wore uniforms. Bus driving struck me as a particularly
one would hand their children keys to a Porsche on their
16th birthday without prior driving lessons--yet in my
work as an investment manager, I see people do the financial
equivalent when it comes to passing on wealth from one
generation to the next.
need "driving lessons" about money: relaxed,
compassionate, skillful adults who sit right next to them,
and say "be careful, this road requires some forethought"
but leave the steering wheel in the children's hands.
They need parents to teach about money consistently and
early, revealing small amounts of information as the kids
can receive it. The lighter the touch the better--like
giving your child vitamins every morning rather than shots.
trying to do this with my own kids. When Daniella and
Seth were just old enough to scrawl their names gripping
a pencil in their fists, I went with them to the local
bank and helped them open up savings accounts. Every month
we'd deposit more, and watch the interest grow.
few years later I gave them each a small account in a
growth mutual fund. Now we compare the two, watching the
savings book grow slowly but steadily, and the growth
fund rise faster but with more fluctuation. My intention
is to make talk about money--earning, spending, saving,
and giving--a fun part of daily family life.
before I married, the family lawyer called me and my soon-to-be
spouse into his office and told us it was time to write
a will. He made me feel as if it were fairly routine--just
fill in the blanks. Naturally, he suggested doing what
my parents had done: passing all the assets I had inherited
to my as-yet unborn children, with a few bequests tacked
on at the end.
whole process took about an hour. I signed the will, left
the office, and sighed, "Thank heavens that's taken
care of and I don't have to think about it any more."
And I didn't for a long time. I was too busy finishing
graduate school, starting a career, having babies, and
figuring out the intricacies of marriage.
as time passed, I felt more and more burdened by my money.
So I joined a money support group with others who had
inherited wealth, and there my spouse and I talked about
how wrong it felt to leave our children a super-abundance,
when in our daily work we saw such crying needs. But the
prospect of revising the will to reflect our true values
seemed utterly overwhelming.
through counseling, Dave and I explored our differences:
what money meant to us as children; how it had worked
for good and ill in our families; what values our parents
had passed on; what we wanted for our children and wanted
to pass on to them.
felt myself turn a corner. I was able to start thinking
concretely about what I did and didn't want to leave my
children. Still, fearful questions replayed in my mind:
how can I love my children and not leave them everything?
What if I die and leave them furious? Or worse, feeling
as if I just didn't love them enough? How dare I live
off my inheritance, let my children enjoy its bounty,
and then deny it to them (for their own good, mind you!)
As a way through this moral dilemma, we decided to figure
out how much money would enable them each to continue
the lifestyle they saw modeled by us. Dave and I have
the luxury of working part-time at jobs we treasure, while
our unearned income lets us enjoy nice vacations, lots
of recreational activities, and visits to family members
across the country. We calculated it would take leaving
each child about $750,000.
figure was a rude confrontation with reality. I wish we
didn't spend so much. I hope one day we will live more
simply, and feel freer and happier for it. If that day
comes, we can amend our wills, but until then, it feels
right not to employ a double standard for our children.
Even after leaving them that much, we had eight million
left over. Through work with our counselors, we came up
with a giving plan we both felt proud of.
it took a year of monthly counseling sessions plus another
six months working with a surprised but helpful estate
lawyer, but we finally have a will and estate plan that
reflects our true selves--not the final word, but a living
document that we can revisit again and again as our lives
and values change. .
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