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Why Family Wealth Is A Curse or A Blessing



    The Forbes announces World Billionaires List every year and that will have many folks living vicariously. If you’re one of them, you may find yourself wishing that you were a billionaire, a multimillionaire or just rich enough to not worry about what things cost.But what many people don’t realize is that family wealth can be curse. It was forme as a member of the family that founded Georgia-Pacific Corporation. and that has given me an inside perspective on the privileges and tragedies that wealthy families encounter.I frittered away my 20s, living as a hippie, experimenting with drugs, sex, and rock and roll. I ran through relationships, part-time jobs and money. I had no idea that I was wasting time. I’m now in my 60s, going strong, working as a psychotherapist counseling families about money issues. But sometimes I feel like I got started a bit late for my age group. Maybe I ll get old late too. That would be a handy outcome.The biggest curse of intergenerational wealth for me and many other people is the illusion that you don t have to do much with your life. You might want to and you might make the effort, but you don’t have the same pressure to earn enough to live on. and that takes away a lot of the incentive to find meaningful work.Though many wealthy families attend to tax, financial and legal planning, with expert advice and well-developed strategies, they often neglect psychological planning. The consequences can be dire. Here are the top three things that make family wealth a curse.Too much too soon. This results in the familiar demotivation that wealthy parents worry about. A form of laziness, it involves remittance addiction--being dependent on the money source. Kids aren’t required to support themselves. Parents have low expectations of the next generation. They may have also set a poor role model by not working themselves; kids don t need both parents working, but they do need someone to teach them about work ethic.My wandering 20s were an example of too much too soon. My parents wanted me to enjoy the freedom of youth. They meant for my financial ease to be a gift. Unfortunately, it didn t occur to me to do anything with my life.Too much financial focus. This focus can be so big that families neglect human, intellectual and social capital in the family. As a result, there’s no balance. Instead, the emphasis is on the dollars, the assets, the strategies and the money managers. Family meetings only cover financial concerns. Some of my wealthy clients have spent years looking for a way to bring up family communication, relationships, and effective parenting.Occasionally a major change, like a death or even a birth, will create a window of opportunity. Then the heat is on to make the best of what may be the one shot at this conversation. It can be a turning point, expanding the family’s focus to include the development of human, intellectual and social capital.Ingratitude.We all know what this looks like. It is the attitude of entitlement and arrogance. Ingratitude is insidious, based on fear and anger. It leads to low self-esteem, insecurity and the self-doubt that comes from never having become good at anything.When I was in my 20s, ingratitude ruled my life. Due to my lack of experience working with others, I thought everything had to be exactly the way I wanted it. Planning for my first wedding, at age 29, I threw a fit that there were no gardenias available in January. I was inconsolable. The florist provided some kind of white flowers, as close as they could come to the gardenias I coveted, and I was furious.Recently, a client said to me, "When you re raised by rich people you re not taught to do anything." You’re not taught to do practical things, because everything is done for you. It’s a challenge to hone the skills you need to function outside of that setting.Many people who aren’t wealthy think it would be great to not have to learn to do anything, or just to learn what one chooses. Perhaps they don t recognize the value of feeling confident and building a purposeful, meaningful life. The only way to get there is to tough out mistakes and failures. Though inheritors are given many things, no one is given a meaningful life. For that we all have to work.Why Family Wealth Is A BlessingThayer Cheatham Willis, ForbesWhen I have written about how family wealth is a curse, as I did here, some people accuse me of being a "poor little rich girl." Of course I realize that family wealth is a blessing, but for reasons that would surprise the supposed know-it-alls.Dismiss the popular notions that you can pay off all your debts and then go crazy with the rest of your wealth; that you will have nothing to worry about; or that you will have the ultimate security. None of this is true. Nor is it the reason that family wealth is a blessing.For me, family wealth became a blessing when I finally gathered enough focus to begin making a life for myself. By then I was about 30 and a good 10 years late to the game. Thankfully, I had not dug myself into a financial hole while I was drifting and fooling around during my 20s, chasing straw people of all kinds. So I got to start from scratch, instead of from some negative position. Family wealth had been a cushion for me.It also created a situation in which I had the full range of choices to which I could apply myself. I got to move forward pretty much unencumbered.Here are the top three things that make family wealth a blessing.Love. This means family members care more about each other than they do about money.One aspect of love is having realistic and high expectations of the next generation, with appropriate support. This is challenging for parents because it varies from one kid to the next. Everyone needs unconditional love from someone; those who don t ever have it are handicapped.I was fortunate to have this lifeline. For me it was my father, my special bond with him was indestructible. having someone who believes in you, no matter what, is priceless. This is just as true in wealthy families as it is in other families.Choices. Yes, choices can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes it feels like there are too many choices, but this is an illusion. Choices are an immense blessing. The choices I made when I was a young adult have led to where I am now. In my mid-20s, out of curiosity, I earned a Masters in English, and took a few counseling classes. Soon, counseling became my direction.Gratitude. By this I mean the intentional practice of gratitude for what you have been given; respecting yourself and others; showing humility, kindness and generosity; being confident and accepting others. I am grateful for work that I am passionate about, for my 25-year marriage and our precious children.Here are three ways to make family wealth a blessing.1. Foster teamwork. A family needs to work together on many fronts. Teamwork can be as simple as nurturing closeness and traditions. or it could involve managing the family beach house, business, or wealth. If these tasks are left to siblings who have no history of collaborating, and who may not even like each other, there will be trouble.Teamwork rarely happens naturally. It needs to be taught and takes time to develop. The older generation can train the next one and set up a framework to help avoid conflicts. Assign each family member a specific task. This fosters unity, as family members become interested in one another and individuals feel responsible for each other.2. Communicate openly. We can all become better communicators--for example, by improving our ability to listen; be assertive; use body language purposely, and be thoughtful about setting and tone. Often improvements create ripple effects in the family. Any practice and improvements go a long way toward fostering better family relationships.3. Ask shareholder equity questions. These are questions designed to help you and your family members understand each other. Open a family meeting or holiday dinner with a question such as: "What is our family s greatest strength? What strength can you see through the generations?" "What has been your greatest joy?" "What legacy are you creating? For what will you be remembered?" There are no wrong answers. Everyone, old and young, gets a chance to respond.The blessings of wealth can be yours, but they are not delivered on a silver platter. Counterintuitive as it may seem, you must work for them. But your hard work will yield ample rewards.


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