Too often when I am sat with clients, we focus on the ‘hard facts’ in estate planning – how much their estate is worth, who owns what and of course tax- and cost-efficient ways of passing wealth to the future generations. These are all vital parts of the process but it doesn’t end there. We need to dig deeper into what I call the ‘soft facts’ to make sure we end up with what the client really wants to achieve.
Families are complex beasts with complex issues. How is it going to impact a beneficiary when they receive what could be a large sum of money? The industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, said “Why should men leave great fortunes to their children? If it is from affection, then it is misguided affection because great sums bequeathed often work more for the injury than the good of the recipients.” Admittedly that was said at the beginning of the 20th century and most of us haven’t got huge fortunes to leave. But the sentiment is there.
A more recent example is that together Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have established the Buffett-Gates Giving Pledge which has resulted in many billionaires pledging most of their wealth to charity. In wanting the best for our children, maybe because we did not have that privilege ourselves, could we affect our children’s self-reliance, ambition and ultimately their self-esteem or hunger to work? The values we pass on to our children, and the education and life experiences we encourage them to have, including learning how to become financially savvy and astute, are all part of life’s challenge.
What if beneficiaries have dependencies that could be catastrophic for them if they inherited large, or even small, sums of money? I’m talking about alcohol, drugs or gambling addictions or indeed other socially-debilitating issues.
What if the client doesn’t really like or trust their daughter-in-law? What if their son-in-law has money problems or his business is a little shaky?
Detailed meetings to really delve into the details are the only way to get to the bottom of it all. Sometimes those can be ‘family’ meetings. It is important to establish the values of that family and sometimes it is important to involve the next generation to ensure everyone is aware of the family expectations as well as preparing our children and other family members to handle and manage their inheritance. This can be particularly pertinent with regard to family businesses and farms.
As you can imagine, the ‘softer issues’ are often harder to resolve than their ‘harder’ counterparts. Proper estate planning, where the estate planner is prepared, experienced and qualified in teasing out that information from their clients, is key. Make sure you feel comfortable with the estate planner you have chosen as, if they are doing their job correctly, you should be sharing information with them that is relevant but probably quite personal.