Garrett Gunderson recently published a provocative article on Forbes.com entitled “How The Ultra-Rich Never Die.”
The article’s premise is to invest in future heirs not in traditional investments. What Gunderson means by “invest” is to dedicate time, energy, attention, and resources towards developing the “talents, interests, abilities, and skill sets of those we choose to be the ones who will carry on and benefit from our legacy.” Gunderson’s rationale is that even if these heirs do not grow their inherited financial assets, life insurance can replenish those assets, freeing the heirs to grow as people and contribute to the world. He also touches on core values, traditions, rituals, family retreats, and mission statements. His concluding remark is “invest in people, not products.”
I applaud his focus on people. Traditional multi-generational planning has tended to emphasize legal structures and financial strategies, often to the detriment of the people involved.
Yet, Gunderson’s either/or thinking – that one should “invest” in people, not products – strikes me as somewhat misleading. Shouldn’t it be people AND investments? Without informed wealth management, focusing exclusively on people can become a prescription for undisciplined self-indulgence and waste. True Wealth involves optimizing financial assets to support people and their quest for happiness, joy, fulfillment, and meaning.
“We ultimately ‘live our legacies.’ That is, if we live our lives with high moral and ethical character, we positively influence those around us and the culture of our families. A family culture of high moral and ethical character ultimately will determine if the assets ‘never die.'”
When I look at the challenges of multi-generational True Wealth, I see the opportunity to help family members align around a larger common vision and purpose. In my experience, this means developing leadership character and family culture. As Gunderson suggests, expressing core values, traditions, rituals, retreats, and mission statements are important and necessary. However, these tend to be about external behaviors. I see character and culture as largely internal and about mindset. And I believe that mindset matters.
Finally, when Gunderson says the “Ultra-Rich Never Die”, he means that the assets of the “Ultra-Rich” wealth creators won’t “die” if his or her heirs are well-versed in core values, traditions, rituals, retreats, and mission statements…and buy life insurance. This can be a great overall strategy for some families. In fact, many multi-generational families successfully employ this strategy. I would add that we ultimately “live our legacies.” That is, if we live our lives with high moral and ethical character, we positively influence those around us and the culture of our families. A family culture of high moral and ethical character ultimately will determine if the assets “never die.”