S. Michelle Jann
Director of Wealth Planning, Senior Wealth Advisor
Director of Wealth Planning, Senior Wealth Advisor
Warren Buffet once remarked, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” Planting and nurturing a tree to the point that it provides shade is a decades long process that requires the tree to adapt to its ever-changing environment. Establishing a legacy for future generations is no different: it requires thoughtful dedication and proactive measures to cultivate your vision.
Before considering your legacy in any detail, you must understand the complete landscape of your wealth. Achieving this bird’s eye view may feel like assembling puzzle pieces, without having the benefit of seeing the final image on the box. To have a full picture of your wealth, you must understand the titling, cashflow options, and beneficiary designations for all your assets. Without this detail, allocating assets appropriately, while understanding the tax and legal ramifications of transferring wealth, is nearly impossible.
Complex assets such as private equity, business partnerships, foreign real estate, and collectable art, demand even more care and attention to ensure efficient wealth transfers.
Legacy, in relation to wealth, is intertwined with our values and purpose. For some, their legacy prioritizes maximizing the inheritance for future generations; for others, their legacy might emphasize charitable objectives.
Many families focus on regulating or even limiting the wealth that is left to the next generation. Individuals and families that choose this route are concerned about leaving a sizeable amount of wealth that could inhibit the motivation of their beneficiaries to achieve their own successes. It is both prudent and necessary to carefully consider the effect wealth transfers might have on your beneficiaries. It is also critically important to revisit this issue as the next generation matures from childhood to adulthood.
Teaching financial literacy is a crucial aspect of securing wealth for future generations. Conversations regarding finance vary greatly within families due to upbringing and beliefs instilled in our early years. Families in which money is a taboo subject often approach financial topics with secrecy and lack financial education. Many families have since shifted away from this approach and are now discussing basic financial concepts at an early age.
The timing of when to introduce financial concepts varies. Parents can encourage children to save a portion of their allowance or cash gifts for a specific goal. If charitable giving is an important family value, children can be encouraged to donate their own funds toward charitable causes.
As young adults begin earning income, family conversations should broaden to include the importance of saving for goals such as first car purchase, first home purchase, as well as retirement. For retirement savings, initiating a Roth IRA with their own earned income or with funds gifted from parents to match their earnings can be an effective way for young adults to get an early start and establish savings habits. As graduates launch their careers, taking advantage of employer-sponsored retirement plans becomes important. In addition, some parents choose to take advantage of the annual gifting exclusion amount (currently $17,000) to fund an investment account for their young adult children. This gives the young adult some early experience investing under the guidance of parents or a wealth advisor.
Nurturing financially literate children and young adults can improve the likelihood that these family members will develop productive money habits. These habits will serve them well throughout their lifetime and, in turn, help to preserve the family wealth for future generations.
Your legacy is rooted in your personal and family values. In many families with generational wealth, these values can be well established, passed down from grandparents and even great grandparents. For families where wealth has been recently created, it is possible that these values are still being developed. Family values can include topics such as charitable giving, self-sufficiency, and a focus on providing for future generations.
Some families even draft a family mission statement. A mission statement can be succinct but still memorialize a family’s values, purpose, and beliefs. An example of a mission statement is the following: “The Harold family mission is to use our wealth thoughtfully to encourage our family members to reach their highest potential, to place a high priority on hard work and self-sufficiency, and to continually seek ways to improve the communities in which we live.”
An established family mission statement guides future generations in honoring the values that you hope to pass on as your legacy. Each new generation can contribute to and enhance the family’s values while building upon the roots you have established.
Many parents choose, for understandable reasons, not to discuss the family’s wealth in detail with their children, regardless of their ages. And yet, as children mature it may become clear that, compared to their peers, they do belong to a wealthy family. Once these children become adults, they might assume that they will inherit a considerable amount of wealth. This could inhibit the children’s motivation to pursue a career and save for their own retirement and goals. If an important part of your legacy is that your children have the motivation to be self-sufficient, it is important to set these expectations early and revisit them on a consistent basis. Setting clear expectations and communicating these expectations can help prevent conflict now and in the future.
As you consider the legacy you wish to leave, it is important to do so with an understanding that the goals, interests, and financial acumen of future generations can be vastly different than your own. An important part of multi-generational wealth planning involves anticipating and preparing as much as possible for change. And yet, how do we accomplish this with static estate planning documents?
One strategy that many estate planning attorneys use when drafting documents is the inclusion of well-crafted conditional statements. These statements can be tied to expectations that beneficiaries must meet, such as age or employment, before benefits from trusts are granted. These statements can also address future legislative changes by allowing the executor or trustee to take the appropriate action given the circumstances at the time, which may be different than when the documents were drafted.
It is important to understand that events may not always go as planned. While we hope that future generations will not experience hardship, experience teaches that divorces, health issues, or other financial difficulties could lie ahead. A well-drafted estate plan will be appropriately flexible to accommodate and protect your family’s wealth and well-being.
We are just two years away from a significant potential tax-law change that would affect families with larger estates. Without further legislative action, the current lifetime exemption of $12.92 million per person (the amount you can pass free of federal estate tax) will reset in January 2026 to approximately $7 million. If you anticipate having an estate over $7 million (single) or $14 million (married) it is time to begin conversations with your wealth advisor and estate planning attorney regarding strategies that could help you maximize your legacy and reduce your tax liability.
Once this change is behind us, rest assured that more legislative changes will affect your estate plan and require updates. As your legacy grows and matures, much like the tree mentioned by Warren Buffett, you must dedicate regular time and attention to achieving the legacy you envision.
Building a legacy is a challenging endeavor. Years, even decades, of dedication and sacrifice go into creating wealth. It takes ongoing commitment and perseverance to transfer wealth to future generations and bring your legacy to fruition. To navigate this journey, you must have clear intent, educated beneficiaries, shared values, effective communication, and the ability to adapt.
For decades, our team has served the needs of successful families across multiple generations. Families with complex estates require additional specialized services including generational wealth planning, philanthropic legacy planning, illiquid private assets, and consolidated reporting. Goelzer Private Office provides these services to our clients with the goals of making the complex simple, and facilitating conversations and action steps that can bring clarity to your legacy. We encourage you to reach out to your Goelzer wealth advisor to discuss your legacy.
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