There’s an old saying in regards to wealth transition. It’s been said many times and many ways, but it goes something like this: The first generation builds wealth, the second generation makes it grow, and the third generation spends it.” Or, as Andrew Carnegie is credited with saying: From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.”
This is not only an American tragedy. It is universal, points out Vic Preisser, managing director of the Williams Group. “The Chinese have a saying,” he told Millionaire Corner, “rice bowl to rice bowl in three generations.”
With president and founder Roy Williams, Preisser founded the Institute for Preparing Heirs to train and certify advisors who work with high net worth families to initiate conversations that will result in a successful wealth transition. They are the co-authors of Preparing Heirs.
Advisors concentrate on preparing assets for heirs, but lack the tools and training to prepare heirs for assets, Preisser said. The result, he said, is that 70 percent of estates fail. According to Institute research, 60 percent fail because of a breakdown of trust and communication breakdown. Twenty-five percent fail as a result of not properly preparing heirs. Fifteen percent fail for other causes.
Further, only two percent of heirs keep their inheritance with their parents’ financial advisor. It’s a “Catch-22” for advisors, Preisser noted. From the heirs’ perspective, it’s a matter of, ‘I don’t know these advisors.’ From the parents’ perspective, it’s a matter of, ‘Why do you want my children involved’ (in financial planning). “They sense that the advisor is thinking, ‘I don’t want to lose your account when you die,’ and so the advisor doesn’t bring it up,” Preisser said.
One of the primary things advisors can do to prepare heirs, he said, is to build trust and communication and guide families toward creating a “mission statement” that would set out the family’s priorities and values. Communication breakdowns are all too common prior to wealth transfer, Preisser noted. “Families don’t know how to talk (to teach other about money). Dad doesn’t want children to see the will, afraid it will destroy their initiative, mom is afraid to bring it up, and the kids aren’t ready to know. Nobody has mentored or guided them.”
The problem is exacerbated as the children grow up and move away. “The opportunity for building trust and fostering communication has moved away from the nightly dining room table,” Preisser said.
Among parents’ primary concerns about wealth transfer, according to Institute research, are that the children will put too much emphasis on material things, that they are naïve about the value of money and will spend beyond their means, and that they won’t do as well financially.
It is to the advisors’ immeasurable benefit, Preisser said, to initiate the wealth transfer conversation with families. Timing is everything. “You’re trying to prepare them,” he said. “Instead of sending the family a box of chocolates at Christmas, send then a white paper, a checklist.” He added, tongue in cheek, “Send them a book, Preparing Heirs.”
The top five items on the Institute’s 10-point checklist include:
· Our family has a mission statement that spells out the overall purpose of our wealth
· The entire family participates in most important decisions, such as defining a mission for our wealth
· All family heirs have the option of participating in the management of the family’s assets
· Heirs understand their future roles, have ‘bought into’ those roles, and look forward to performing those roles
· Heirs have actually reviewed the family’s estate plans and documents.
The advisors’ role in successful wealth transfer, Preisser said, is to know when families are in need of help and to guide them to the appropriate resources and diagnostic tools to help in those areas and pinpoint weak spots before the transition. If they won’t take it upon themselves to become educated about broaching the sensitive subject of wealth transfer, Preisser said, he hopes families will take the lead and tell their advisor: “Get educated to give me the course of help to prepare my heirs, my estate, my will.”
Advisors who do this, Preisser said, will be uniquely differentiated in their field. “The wealthy will flock to them for help.”
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.