As with lottery winners and athletes who are in danger of spending significant portions of their new-found wealth in an instant, children who were raised with wealth must be properly prepared to handle affluence and their inheritance wisely
Older generations must be intentional to guard against the development of affluenza in children of all ages.
Here are 10 tips to help clients accomplish this elusive goal.
1. Reality Check: Preventing affluenza starts with discipline. This includes enforcing consequences when the child breaks rules and giving responsibilities such as chores in early childhood. Each shows that there are real consequences for one’s actions and that life requires hard work and accountability, regardless of status and wealth. Giving children duties creates opportunities for them to feel accomplished when those duties are fulfilled. It also establishes a pattern or habit of personal responsibility. Often it is with these struggles that real personal growth takes place.
2. Better to Give than Receive: Involve children in philanthropic activities and have them volunteer for a charitable organization of their choice. This provides children with a genuine sense of what life is truly like for the majority of the community which is less fortunate. As a result, it develops a profound appreciation for the opportunities they are receiving and, further, what their inheritance can bring in the future if managed properly. Prior to their earning years, children can often better understand the sacrifice of giving time, as they haven’t yet had the privilege to make money or manage their livelihood or lifestyle. Hours in a day, on the other hand, working selflessly for the benefit of others, feel very real to them.
3. The Most Important Things in Life Are Not Things: Informed families derive enjoyment from activities that do not require buying the latest items or spending a significant amount of resources, but stresses the value of relationships and celebrate personal achievement. The amassing a great deal of wealth should not be viewed as an end in itself or essential to achieving happiness. Therefore, involve children in activities that create enjoyment but aren’t driven by the payment of money, and instead require commitment of time and personal effort, such as sports. School activities and undertakings that build relationships in the community are very important.
4. Patience Is a Virtue: Require children to save for things they wish to purchase. This teaches the value of money, self-control and delayed gratification. It also leads to a much deeper appreciation for the items earned. Postponing gratification builds character, discipline and fortitude in children, and it creates strength for managing relationships with others. Meaningful relationships require each of these personal traits.
5. Knowledge Is Power: Enroll children in basic, age-appropriate financial literacy classes. It is a good investment in a child’s future and will help them learn to manage the money they earn and their family inheritance. Spend the time to teach children to protect themselves first from themselves, before protecting themselves from others.
6. No Substitute for Hard Work: Beginning in high school, especially during the summertime, encourage children to secure employment or start their own businesses to earn resources. This imparts the meaning of hard work, the importance of being responsible and accountable and the pride of ownership in dollars earned. In affluent families, travel and other enrichment activities, including participation in sports events, can make it difficult to consistently integrate the weekly responsibilities of a summer job or other activities during the school year, which often are the most enriching lessons of all.
7. Word to the Wise: Identify advisors that can be trusted to guide children once their inheritances are received, but these individuals should be introduced while your children are adolescents. The value of having these advisors in their lives should be covered as well. Concepts can be integrated modestly regarding the management of family assets. It is an iterative process; a 14-year old may not fully appreciate the value of the family advisor in the same way that a 20-year old would. That said, at a very early age, make it clear that a child must come to trust their established and proven professional relationships.
8. Failing to Plan Is Planning to Fail: Develop a plan for significant assets to be passed in a shielded way. Create goals for the orderly process of wealth transfer, and outline what resources should be allocated and what vehicles should receive them. Move assets to be passed to children into protected entities first to safeguard them, and then communicate to the children at a later date that the assets exist—eventually let them know the size of those assets. As we move to guard assets from others, think of it as a gradual process instead of a “wholesale immersion” of the children into the family finances. That said, fearing children will find out too soon is a reason why too often people fail to protect the assets and themselves. As a child learns more about their interest, teach them to be more active in its management and protection rather than spending it.
- Include requirements to pay off any debt, calculate income and living expenses, and create a realistic budget.
- Encourage the child to invest and track assets received. Portfolios must compound to outperform inflation, key to avoiding dissipation of the protected assets. The assets must also be diversified to avoid concentration in just a few positions, which can lead to dramatic losses if the concentrated bet fails.
- Consider putting a temporary freeze on making significant decisions regarding the assets; this can allow time for the child to think through their situation and avoid making monumental mistakes due to impatience or panicky decisions with their inheritance.
9. Know When to Say No: Children should always be selective in their choices of friends. It is simply unavoidable that certain friends may be attracted to the lifestyle that a child enjoys rather than the quality of the child’s character. As children grow, part of their decisions regarding their friends might be: “Is this person or group spending time with me because of my family’s affluence? Do they support the values we promote as a family?” An example of a red flag could be if a child is asked or is presumed to pay for common items when they are out with others.
10. Preparation Is the Key to Success: Create or update estate planning documents. The best laid plans are irrevocably undermined if parents pass away before completing the mission of ensuring that their children are ready to accept the inheritance. Delivering a gift in a protective vehicle is as important as delivering the gift itself.
- Not only create trusts and protective partnerships, but be prepared to amend your Will to reflect any new situation that, if otherwise ignored, could affect your child’s growth and progress within the family. If there is a demonstrated weakness with social or financial matters, for example, this will require further maturation.
- Setting up a trust for a child offers him an opportunity to exercise the wisdom you have provided from a very early age with the protection against wrongful, unanticipated attacks. Have a co-trustee serve with the child well into adulthood. The trustee’s job is not to give the child a fish, but rather to teach him to fish.
As Warren Buffet once said, “A very rich person should leave his kids enough to do anything but not enough to do nothing.”