Keep Wealth in the Family

Nearly every country on the planet has its own aphorism to reflect the all-too-common trend of rags to riches and back to rags again.

In our culture, this phenomenon is described as “from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” And it affects many affluent, intelligent families. So when fortunes are built by industrious, bright, innovative individuals, why is their wealth often destroyed in just a few generations?

Surprisingly, the culprit has nothing to do with poor investment strategies, poor economies or turbulent financial markets—the real culprit is far more insidious.

What separates the families who destroy their wealth from those who preserve their fortunes is more complex. In the book Preparing Heirs: Five Steps to a Successful Transition of Family Wealth and Values, co-authors Roy Williams and Vic Preissler note: studies show approximately 70 percent of a high net worth family’s wealth is often gone by the end of the second generation, and, 90 percent is gone by the end of the third generation. The common root causes leading to reversals of fortune, according to their research, are a lack of a shared family vision and poor communication within the family.

So how can this oft-occurring cycle be broken?

The process of heritage planning is a means to end this common sequence, preserve wealth, and safeguard family unity. Brian Luster proclaims, “The traditional wealth management plan has been broken. Without heritage planning, statistically everything you’ve done (to protect your wealth for your heirs) is for naught…It is imperative that you incorporate heritage planning into your financial planning.”

Heritage planning is best defined as a comprehensive set of experiences, including stories, values, and traditions, that are passed down in two vital ways: 1) education; and 2) communication. Find out what Brian recommends to his own clients to avoid the “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves” fate in the interview he did with Private Air Magazine.

Heritage design’s dynamic framework creates a lifetime of shared experiences between generations.

We often liken it to fishing lessons as Brian explains in the Wall Street Journal.

Each family is unique—so is their story. A living document captures the family’s stories, values, and traditions, often in the form of a website, video, or book. This offers direction for how the leader of the family envisions management of the inheritance. When clients share the journey of how they became who they are with their family members, the dialog is opened beyond conversations about assets. Rather, it becomes about how the family’s unique perspective shapes their financial—and personal futures. Interested in learning more?

The full conversation is available here and additional recommendations on How to Prepare Your Heirs for Their Inheritance are available on

As the Greek philosopher Epictetus advised, “Be careful to leave your sons well instructed rather than rich, for the hopes of the instructed are better than the wealth of the ignorant.”