In these uncertain times, your clients may be feeling profoundly vulnerable deep down. Questions about what their lives mean, what will survive beyond them, and what legacy they will pass on to their loved ones–and in the world around them–can seem more pressing than ever.
As a result, clients who receive an inheritance, or plan to leave one, may present you with intensified dilemmas. Here’s a look at several different situations, with suggested ways to handle them.
A client whose $2 million inheritance I manage has fallen in love with a young fellow she met at a party. He wants her to provide capital for a new venture that has something to do with cloning racehorses. This lady has been looking for Mr. Right for a long time, and she’s thinking seriously of funding his idea. Needless to say, I fear he’s a con artist. How can I get her to see reality before she loses her fortune? Many heirs and heiresses have conscious or unconscious guilt about wealth they haven’t worked for. In various ways, they may try to sabotage their own best financial interests.
Combined with the fact that love is blind (particularly in the honeymoon stage), it’s likely that your client won’t respond well to rational arguments against this investment–at least not initially. She certainly doesn’t want to hear that you fear her boyfriend is dishonest and plans to use her. If you take this approach, she’ll only push you and your advice away, to her own detriment.
Instead, encourage her to help you figure how much money she may need for her future financial security. Then you can estimate how much will be left for her to share with loved ones and charities, invest in high-risk opportunities, and otherwise play around with.
If she is willing to discuss this cloning scheme with you, ask her to consider whether it will help her reach her long-term goals. Remind her that before recommending an investment, you always try to estimate the downside risk as well as the upside potential. What does she think the worst-case scenario might be if she invests in this deal? If her answer echoes your own fears, you might try to help her see the risk more clearly by telling her about someone else’s emotionally motivated investment that had disastrous results.
If your client is willing to lose the money despite all these cautions, you need to let go. Just be there to catch her if and when she falls, without saying smugly, “I told you so.”
An older couple I work with are finally getting their estate in order. They want to leave a substantial sum to their grandson, now 15, who seems to have no ambitions beyond hot music and cool clothes. They worry that it’s too late to begin educating him about the responsibilities of wealth. How should I advise them? It’s never too late to start this learning process. If you feel comfortable serving as a mentor for their grandson, you might volunteer to teach him about investing, borrowing, and so on. Or you may be able to recommend a good personal finance book or video to begin educating him about ways to grow money and put it to work.
In any event, I’d suggest that the grandparents discuss their plans and their philosophy with the young man. They could also talk to him about his goals and potential uses for his inheritance. This may be a meeting you’d like to be involved in, if everyone is willing (yourself included!).
A toe-in-the-water tactic would be for them to give him an advance on his inheritance, and have him work with you to choose stocks or funds in categories he’s interested in. Once he begins tracking these stocks, he’ll be on the road to understanding what money can do for him, other than simply satisfying his immediate needs and appetites. The grandparents could also get his input on earmarking some of his money for a charity of his choice.
I must say, your clients are truly enlightened. By devoting time and effort to educating the next generation, wealthy families are much likelier to raise young people who use money wisely to benefit themselves and the community.
My client, a widow, wants most of her money to go to a local community foundation after her death, but her adult children are pressuring her to leave it all to them instead. She wants my help to restore peace in the family. SOS! This is never an easy situation. However, I’m glad your client wants to resolve this issue now, rather than surprising her expectant children with a fait accompli after she is gone. Their shock, distress, and disappointment at that point could forever color their memories of their mother.
If you’re willing to assist your client, I would meet with her to be sure you know exactly why and how she wishes to pass on her wealth. Get a detailed sense of the family financial history. How well-off is each of her children at present? Are they feeling unloved or unsupported in some way? Perhaps she hasn’t made it clear to them that she is not withholding her love, just her money. Can she show them love and support in other ways?
Assuming you are in accord with her preferences, you can then choose to get together with her and the children. Be aware that intense emotions may surface in this meeting. If you feel uncomfortable being put in the position of a bridge between dissenting family members, you might consider asking a trusted therapist or counselor to sit in with you.
If the children are willing to entertain the idea of their mother leaving at least some of her money to a foundation, explore ways for them to take on a role in future foundation decisions and activities. This can add to their professional and community status, while making them feel good about their mother’s trust in them.
On the other hand, if their attitude continues to be “If you really love us, you’ll leave us your money,” you may need to support their mother with a “tough love” stance. Remind them that it is her money, to be spent in the way she feels is most appropriate for her values, her integrity, and the legacy she wants to leave to the world and to her community.
My young client considers a pending inheritance from her grandfather to be “dirty money,” because his business exploited workers and polluted a nearby river. She is so ashamed of this legacy that she wants to disclaim it. However, her husband insists that they should take the money. How can I help her make the right choice? Your client is understandably stuck in what George Kinder, author of Seven Stages of Money Maturity, calls innocence: she’d like to bury her head in the sand and stay “pure” and untouched by the family inheritance. (Mr. Kinder’s book is available through the Investment Advisor Bookstore)
Help her see that a more responsible position would be to take the money and do some real good with it. For example, she might provide grants to the community her grandfather exploited, or repair the environmental damage his business caused. If you can find Christopher Mogil and Anne Slepian’s quarterly journal, More Than Money (www.morethanmoney.org), it might inspire this woman to take on the challenge of bettering society, rather than living with painful feelings of contamination and shame from her family legacy.
As for the husband, see if his objectives for the money seem valid to her. If so, you may be able to help work out a compromise that leaves them both feeling satisfied, at least in part.
A couple has asked me to help them allocate a large inheritance the wife received after her parents’ recent death in a car accident. One of their two sons has a 3.94 GPA at college, while the older boy, who helps out in his dad’s business, has a learning disability and a spending problem. I’ve been trying to elicit a sense of the couple’s priorities, but they seem paralyzed by her family tragedy. How can I best help them? The first thing is to slow down the whole process. After such a traumatic life change, rapid decision-making is not a good idea and can even be dangerous. It takes time to recover from the shock of loss and get through the mourning process.
So caution your clients that before they make any big financial decisions, they need to sort out their feelings, their values, and their concerns. For example, would they like to use some of their money to help make the world a better place? How do they feel about supporting their sons?
If they do want to share some of the inheritance with the boys, it’s important to consider all the options calmly. Should they gift the younger son outright and the older son via a trust, or is it important to avoid the perception of inequitable treatment? If the older brother has a learning disability such as ADD (attention deficit disorder) or ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder), this can often contribute to impulsive spending. Part of the parents’ money could be used for the tutoring, therapy, and/or medication he may need to make progress in overcoming his disability.
You’ll need patience to help this couple assess the challenges of their family situation. Your role in asking questions and reviewing the choices with them will be crucial in helping them put their inheritance to the best possible use.
My client was just notified of an inheritance from a great-uncle, a biochemist who developed the first treatment for a tropical parasitic disease. He also adopted several children from Third World orphanages, brought them to the U.S., and put them through college. My client feels he can never live up to this impressive legacy, and he’s considering giving all the money away. I think he might regret this gesture later. How can I help him get over his feelings of inadequacy? You need to help this client see that his true legacy is to be the best person he can be, not an Einstein, a Schweitzer, or a replica of his late great-uncle.
Sympathize with how overwhelmed he feels in comparing himself with this icon of a relative, who is a tough act to follow, to say the least! Then slowly steer the conversation to your client’s own hopes and dreams. Has he secretly harbored a passion to create, explore, or make a difference in the world? Does he find joy and achievement in work, hobbies, play? Once you’ve helped him build on his sense of uniqueness and self-worth by identifying his own special strengths, you may be able to suggest a way to use the inheritance that would do his great-uncle proud while honoring himself.
When clients like these come to you with fears and conflicts about wealth they are giving away or being given, help them tune in to the positive meaning of the legacy. Giving or receiving, or both, may be a way to fulfill their deepest yearnings. Sometimes you can assist them to accept nurturing in the form of wealth (many more people than you suspect may have problems with receptivity and feeling worthy of an inheritance). At other times, your role may be to help them give in the most openhearted way.
Your work in this area will be enriched if you have explored your own values, yearnings, and gifts. With the insight generated by this self-knowledge, you’ll find it easier to help your clients navigate issues of personal integrity and values that go way beyond dollars and cents.