Can you imagine giving your child a powerful Harley Davidson motorcycle without ever teaching him how to ride a bike? Most parents would never consider such a reckless gift. But gift planning attorney, Jeanne McMains, says this is often a good metaphor for what she has seen many moms, dads, and grandparents do with their family inheritance.
As senior vice-president of complex gift solutions at the National Christian Foundation (NCF), and a gift planner specializing in wealth transfer for some of America’s most well-to-do families for more than 25 years, Jeanne has seen her share of families who were headed down a dangerous path with their heirs.
But, she says, it doesn’t have to be that way. By asking a few key questions, families can create a values-based, impact-driven inheritance that empowers children to avoid common dangers and thrive with purpose.
1. What is the role of wealth in our lives?
It may seem like a daunting question, but the “why” of wealth permeates all of the complexities of tax decisions and estate plans. Most conventional plans assume that the goal is to accumulate all the wealth you can and push it all down to your kids at the least possible tax cost.
But maybe you dream of something more for your family legacy. Jeanne has observed that parents who pause and pray about why God has blessed them with the resources they have are better prepared to create a plan that invites their children into something bigger.
2. What do I hope the inheritance is going to do in my child’s life?
“We tend to think that wealth is either the hero of our kids’ life story or it’s going to be the villain,” Jeanne says. “I say wealth is just fuel in the engine.”
So, what will these resources fuel in your child’s life? Of course, the answer to that question will be unique for each child, so the plan for their inheritance might need to be as well.
“When you take the uniqueness principle into consideration, you can think about what experiences, tools, and training each child needs to help further the story God is writing in that child’s life. Then you can consider how much is enough and how you structure that in a way that’s loving and purposeful for each child,” Jeanne says.
3. How do I create inheritances that will further our family values?
Jeanne encourages families to think in terms of three types of inheritances: an inheritance to spend, to shape or to share. The first involves funding the opportunities, possessions, and experiences that will help children to be independent, productive and content. Another is providing for positive life-shaping experiences that empower them to develop good values and character. And then, there is the inheritance to share.
“Many families in America have more wealth than they need for the shaping and the spending necessary to positively equip their children and grandchildren,” Jeanne says. “Legacies that thrive are focused on stewarding God’s resources to further his purposes, both within our families and in the world around us.”
Each of these types of inheritances can be incorporated into various estate planning strategies when you communicate your values-based priorities with your trusted advisors.
Hard questions, rewarding answers
Jeanne advises that we be careful not to shortchange the process: “Try not to think of estate planning as a one-and-done exercise where you merely sign documents and put them on a shelf. Wealth is a gateway to deeper, ongoing conversations with your family about the stewardship pursuits that really matter.”
“When you teach your kids how to ride a bike, it takes many hours and a lot of falling down and picking them up again,” she says. In the same way, estate planning is a process. “It can be a powerful catalyst for important conversations and growth.”
Planning a values-based, impact-driven inheritance is a journey, and it can be one of your family’s most rewarding experiences.
Learn how a Giving Strategy can help uncover the legacy God wants you to leave for future generations by visiting ncfgiving.com/strategy.