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The Scottish proverb “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” describes the cycle of families starting with little means who build their wealth through hard work, but by the time great-grandchildren are in charge, the family is back to where they started, with nothing. Many wealthy families are concerned about their heirs’ capability to manage the money and business assets they will inherit. This is especially true among first-generation wealth builders.

Their concerns are backed up with research that finds 70% of family wealth is lost by the second generation, and 90% of family wealth is lost by the third generation. US Trust surveyed high net-worth individuals with at least $3 million in investable assets to see how they prepare the next generation for managing significant wealth. “Looking at the numbers, 78% feel the next generation is not financially responsible enough to handle inheritance,” says Chris Heilmann, U.S. Trust’s Chief Fiduciary Executive. Sixty-four percent of survey participants say they have shared little or nothing about their financial matters with their children.

The survey highlights a variety of reasons for the lack of communication: talking about money is taboo, they do not want their children to become lazy and unmotivated, and they fear the information will be shared beyond the family. The surveys and statistics are discouraging, but your family can beat the odds.

Some strategies to avoid the three-generation cycle are below.

Communicate with your Heirs
You may think you are protecting your kids by not sharing financial information with them, but the result is ignorant children who grow up to become ignorant adults.

Give your kids the advantage of financial literacy so they can make smart decisions. Many financial institutions and educators, such as Dave Ramsey, offer specialized courses and programs designed to help heirs understand the opportunity and responsibility of inheritance. Don’t leave out the grandkids, you can never be too young to learn about the importance of smart financial decisions.

Discuss the Estate Plan
The mystery surrounding an estate plan can cause quite a stir among the family. If you and your heirs are committed to full transparency and comprehensive planning, then you should discuss the 500-pound gorilla: the will.

Parents and grandparents who communicate the what and why of their will in a group setting allow for open dialogue to occur before the silence of death makes clarifications or adjustments impossible. It is better to overcome the hesitation of discussing these issues than to have a legal war that drains the assets and destroys relationships when the patriarch or matriarch is no longer around.

Share Your Vision
A successful transfer of wealth requires a shared vision between generations. Your heirs need to learn about how you built the wealth, the values you hold close, and what you expect of them. The stories of family history, opportunities for growth, and acceptance of responsibilities which accompanies the wealth will set your family on the path to success beyond the three-generation curse.

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