We work as financial advisors for one woman who will inherit a large estate. Despite what’s coming to her, she still works professionally. She lives in a modest home and has taught her kids to live within their means. Instead of planning how she’ll spend her millions, she comes to us with questions about the best ways to perpetuate the money for her own kids and grandchildren.
Most families want to pass on wealth, values, and financial know-how. In order to successfully do so, they must possess one foundational value: family stewardship. Family stewards are motivated by a healthy obligation to care for future generations. They view their money not as a personal possession, but as a trust; they understand that their role is to maintain it, grow it, and pass it on to others.
Their family vision for wealth stretches far into the future—it includes not just their children, but the multiple generations that will follow. In other words, family stewards have decided to play the long game. If you want to leave your family the most powerful legacy possible, you must have what it takes to be a family steward, and you must be willing to prioritize your financial values over all other temptations. Read on to learn how.
What It Takes to Be a Family Steward
Family stewardship is characterized by three main qualities:
1. Family stewards’ financial habits are guided by long-term financial goals. These goals are determined by the family vision and by concern for future generations.
2. Family stewards are financially literate; they understand how to use financial strategies to cultivate the family estate and carry out the family vision.
3. Family stewards live with gratitude and generosity, stewarding not only their money, but also their time and talents.
Successful family stewards must function as family leaders. Imagine that you raise your child to be values-driven and financially smart. As they enter adulthood and get married, though, they could still be overridden by their spouse; that’s why it’s so key to make sure they understand their role as leaders within their families.
This might seem like an oversimplification of what are often complicated family dynamics. Still, if you raise your children with vision, values, a sense of obligation to future generations, and an expectation for family leadership—that’s a great place for any next generation to start.
If any family should be considered a case study in financial stewardship, it would have to be the Rockefellers. John D. Rockefeller, the family’s patriarch, made his fortune through Standard Oil. His mother, a deeply religious Baptist, taught her son to tithe 10 percent of everything he ever made, and as one of our nation’s first billionaires, Rockefeller became known for his philanthropy.
The Rockefellers are still stewards of big wealth. They operate under the assumption that it’s their job to handle their money well, and pass it on. The three qualities that characterize family stewardship are all easily recognizable in their legacy: they operate with long-term goals, determined by the family vision; they have continued to invest their money wisely, thanks to financial literacy and the help of expert guidance; and they live with clear gratitude and generosity.
Why Giving is So Important
If you want to pass on wealth, it might make sense that a good steward must have long-time financial goals and strong financial literacy. What’s perhaps less evident is why generosity should play such an important role. Still, family stewardship can’t happen without those values for giving and generosity.
In 2013, a story about the “Affluenza teen” made headlines. The teen, a young man named Ethan Couch, killed four people when he drunkenly drove his SUV onto the sidewalk. A psychologist testifying at his trial suggested that Couch didn’t understand the consequences of his actions because he had “affluenza”—in other words, he was just too rich to know right from wrong.
People were furious about the suggestion that Couch be pitied and excused for being “too rich.” Still—we can testify to the phenomenon that Couch represents. If kids aren’t taught to think of other people, they will instinctively and mainly think of themselves. This can be especially true of children who grow up rich, and in the long run, this egocentrism can jeopardize your family’s wealth..
Giving and gratitude work as an antidote to entitlement. We have many clients characterized by generosity and thankfulness, and they’ve got a bounce in their step. They’ve got a vision of giving, which helps them handle their money with the next generation in mind. They’re motivated to push their money into perpetuity, not just spend through it. They also demonstrate purpose, hope, and a sense of meaning.
For example, we saw our own children’s sense of entitlement fade by participating in an act of generosity. Our children’s school recently did a shoe drive to collect shoes for children in Africa. We watched our kids realize important truths about the world as they watched videos about the African children they were going to be helping, many of whom had to walk long distances to get fresh water.
The act of giving opened their eyes to the needs of others and also helped them feel grateful for what they had. Moments like these open the door to revisit our family’s vision for our wealth and establish values of family stewardship.
Obligation to Future Generations
We want our kids to understand that the world is bigger than themselves. We want to demonstrate firsthand that it’s better to give than receive. We want to ingrain the value that working to improve your community is part of what it means to be alive.
We believe that when children feel a sense of gratitude for what they’ve been given and are shown a vision for giving, they’re far more likely to carry on a powerful sense of obligation to care for future generations. And that sense of obligation is a game changer.
As the example of our client shows, when people extend care to future generations, they treat their finances differently; they approach their wealth with a sense of responsibility and generosity. They play the long-game. People’s financial habits are often dictated most by what they feel a sense of obligation to. When this obligation is targeted in a healthy direction, your family’s vision can be established for generations.
For more advice on family stewardship, you can find Pass It On on Amazon.
Roger and Lori Gervais are proud parents of three wonderful children: Anna, Will, and Jack. Roger and Lori are also the husband-and-wife team behind The Gervais Group, named by Forbes as “Best in State Wealth Advisors” in Wisconsin. Lori, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, has been recognized for her commitment to clients and to the profession by Forbes, which named her to its America’s Top Women Advisor List. Roger, a CFA® charterholder, uses his background in engineering to offer clients a unique set of problem-solving skills. Throughout their thirty years of combined experience in the industry, Roger and Lori have made it their mission to simplify the complex world of financial planning.