A Different Take on Legacy Planning

I recently shared a blog post written by my colleague Rob Aspin, CIO of MW Capital Management, MarcWhittaker’s asset management firm. In Rob’s summer travels he met up with members of a family which appear to have done a particularly good job with preparing the next generation for dealing with the challenges coming with inherited wealth. By converting the family business into a perpetual trust, profits from which can only be used for charity or reinvesting into the business, family heirs were essentially not given any “inheritance” per se. They simply have the right to a job interview within the family business. So future children, grandchildren, etc. are given a bit of an advantage in terms of their job search but they must still take personal responsibility for their lives, as there is no trust fund for them to live off without working.

That business, along with its perpetual trust ownership model, is the legacy one entrepreneur has chosen to leave his children and his children’s children. And this is a case where it’s easier for me to believe that the family fortune won’t be all gone (i.e., squandered) by the third generation, which statistically is usually what happens.

It’s in the genes

I believe, however, that there is more to a legacy than prudent financial and legal planning. Specifically, I believe it’s about how we can improve the way we show up and “do” life today, and thus influence the genes of future generations for the better. I’m no scientist, but let me make my case.

As humans, like all species on this planet, we evolve and that process doesn’t stop. Fish that have wound up living in caves stop growing eyes. Not everyone has wisdom teeth (my son included), as it seems we are evolving to no long need as many teeth as we used to.

In my own life I have a deep sense that there a certain “issues” which I was simply born with. The innate fear of rejection, for example, is one for me which I’m quite sure is not the result of things I was told by my parents or peers at a young age, but rather something that developed or occurred generations ago and has been passed down through DNA. And I can see this playing out with my children too, which further validates my non-scientific opinion.

Examples of negative traits in our lives could include:

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of losing money
  • Blaming others for our problems
  • Being easily angered

 

So these negatives traits, ones we are simply born with, can’t be simply erased from our psyche. Sure, peers and family members can be guilty of reinforcing these things through their words and deeds, but many are there irrespective of our upbringing. And we can’t unlearn them either – try to unlearn riding a bicycle or tying your shoes!  But we can, when aware of the negativity, take actions which work to counter and diminish the fears, anger, etc.  

Wake up and smell the coffee

Gaining awareness, however, is the first step and in my own experience it usually takes someone outside of ourselves to bring it to our attention. I see this in coaching and work with clients to help them help themselves by, in the first instance, becoming aware of the negativity.

By taking steps to be proactive with our own sense of inner well-being we can at least start to affect the next generation and, as odd as it may sound, impact their genes for good. Starting a trend of positivity which overrules negativity is the kind of legacy I want to leave my children and grandchildren.

Legacies left in the form of money and/or a business, or even a non-profit organization promoting a noble cause all have their merits and need to be properly planned. But planning and taking action for a legacy “in the genes” is arguably more valuable – a legacy really worth investing in.

Chris Saye
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Chris is a family office executive, coach and writer. He is a former partner with both Arthur Andersen and Ernst & Young, and currently manages MarcWhittaker, a network of family office advisors in Singapore. He is a fluent Russian-speaker, having spent 15 years living and working in Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Chris has been married to his wife Galina for over 20 years and together they have three children and two grandchildren.

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