Personal Finance

The big wealth transfer is coming. Here's how to make sure younger generations are ready.

Key Points
  • About $68 trillion in U.S. wealth is expected to change hands from older generations to younger generations.
  • Yet, 64% of wealthy individuals say they have not shared their plans for their assets with their heirs.
  • These tips can help families start the conversation and make sure that money lasts for generations to come.
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The Great Wealth Transfer is coming.

About $68 trillion in U.S. wealth is expected to change hands in the next 25 years, according to research firm Cerulli Associates.

Yet as wealthy individuals plan for how to pass on those assets, many are not discussing it with their heirs.

A recent survey from Merrill Private Wealth Management, part of Bank of America, found that 64% of wealthy individuals have not talked about how they plan to pass on their assets.

The survey, conducted online in 2018, included more than 650 individuals with at least $3 million in investible assets.

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Many individuals surveyed said the most important thing they want to communicate to their families is how to use their money wisely. Yet just 46% of respondents said they have talked with their families about things like values or operating principles.

Even though those conversations are not happening, wealthy individuals do want to have them. "Our experience is that, yes, people don't talk about wealth, but many want to," said Matt Wesley, director at the Center for Family Wealth at Merrill Private Wealth Management.

There are various reasons why individuals do not broach the subject with their children, Wesley said. One common theme is the complexity of the topic. Many do not want to demotivate their children by revealing how much they stand to inherit. Plus, they may be reluctant to stir up tensions in their families.

The worst-case scenario for these families? Loss of wealth. Or, as the saying goes, "Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations."

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For families who are looking to get the conversation started, there are a couple of ways to help break the ice.

Avoid autocratic decision making

Wealthy members of the silent and baby boomer generations tend to take an autocratic approach to their financial decision making, Merrill's report found.

Yet to effectively loop in the younger Gen X and millennial generations, families might want to take a different tack.

Participatory decision-making can help parents and grandparents get children involved. That can include discussions where younger family members are given hypothetical financial problems to solve.

The key is to get children used to thinking about and participating in financial decision making, whereby decisions are made by family consensus.

Start talking about money early

Ideally, educating your children about wealth shouldn't happen in one single conversation.

Merrill's report compares the process to a dimmer switch that slowly turns on the lights.

Passing on these values can start with early lessons of saying "please" and "thank you" and having children take their dishes to the sink, Wesley said.

From there, it can include instilling a family culture where they treat their siblings well and give back to the community.

Ultimately, those smaller lessons can add up over time. "What you're trying to do is raise an adult," Wesley said.