In the UK alone, an estimated £5.5 trillion is due to be passed between generations over the next 30 years – according to Kings Court Trust – yet according to the Attitudes Survey 2019, only half of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals have a robust succession plan in place.
Most inheritance handovers will be seamless. However, lack of a succession plan is a concern because it takes time to devise a holistic strategy to transfer decision-making responsibilities to the next generation. Not surprisingly, there are numerous barriers to the process: timing, lack of clear objectives and in some cases the decision maker or head of the family might not be ready to hand over authority.
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Alongside all this, changing family structures and a wide span of generations present challenges of their own. For example, children in different branches of the family might be treated differently, as might stepchildren and grandchildren, particularly concerning property or fine art.
Passing on wealth is a major concern for wealthy families and while there is no way of rubber stamping the transfer process, there are three approaches that one can take to prepare for successful transition.
Promoting a vision
Apart from wanting to provide a comfortable level of wealth to future generations, it is important to start by identifying clear objectives: defining how future generations should benefit from an inheritance; identifying what that might mean, to whom and in what proportions.
Some families want to maintain consistency in their philanthropic ventures, while others are more focused on creating a lasting legacy. Is there a philanthropic purpose for your wealth and if so, does it align with your family’s values? For instance, there are hundreds of foundations dedicated to different causes; from well-known ones such as the Wellcome Trust to the smaller such as the Peter Harrison Foundation. Each one has its own mission.
Sometimes the interests and focus of the head of the family do not align with the children or grandchildren. For example, baby boomers might be comfortable investing in manufacturing, but Gen X and Gen Y might prefer an emphasis on sustainable investing or in technology venture capital. There will even be wide disparities in risk tolerance amongst the beneficiaries. And then there are myriad human factors; everyone will have different personal views, experiences and needs.
Preparing the legacy
At the same time, it is important to create the right governance structures and identify the corporate trustees and lawyers that will assist you in achieving the smooth transition of assets.
Taking an integrated approach with this is one of the keys to successful transfer and management of wealth. For example, what type of structures should be established; trusts, private trust companies, foundations or even groups of companies? Co-ordinating with the relevant experts depending on the assets held and structures required is essential too.
Clients with family located internationally will need to understand the implications to the wealth transfer of offshore and regional tax regimes, for example. Even US and UK FATCA and the automatic exchange of information need to be taken into account.
It’s all about the people
Wealth transfer is of course about preservation of assets, but it is also about people. The succession structure needs to fit the individuals within the family. Some members of a family might have little understanding about finance so it might be necessary to educate them or even negotiate with them for the transition ahead. More competent individuals might want a more flexible structure in order to apply their knowledge.
It is therefore vital that the succession planning process, which can take up to a decade, includes open dialogue with key beneficiaries right from the start. A survey conducted by Moore Stephens found that nearly a quarter of respondents highlighted the difficulties when trying to reach agreements in the decision-making process.
It is quite common for people to avoid discussions about money and lack of communication can seriously hinder the process; beneficiaries need to know more than just the names of trustees or advisers.
At JAR Capital, I advise clients to include their beneficiaries gradually. To begin with it might just be an exercise in sharing information, but over time the next generation becomes more interested and seeks to take on more responsibility. This could include taking an active role in investments and governance or spearheading the family foundation.
There is no doubt that issue of intergenerational wealth transfer is a thorny one. Nevertheless, we believe that those families that take action in advance to preserve their wealth for future generations will ensure an orderly and harmonious succession of assets.