Generational wealth is wealth earned by one generation and passed on to the next. Generational wealth is key to allowing the next generation to be free from the burden of having to live hand-to-mouth and allows them to pursue an education and build a career or business to build a better life for themselves.
Even a little bit of a headstart can be extremely helpful in life. Those who start with little economic wealth, including many minorities and recent immigrants, face obstacles in obtaining a good education and building a business or a solid career. Those who have a headstart in life have an easier path to success and happiness. It doesn’t mean they will have everything handed to them on a silver platter. It just means they won’t start at the bottom of society’s ladder. The biggest factor in the wealth gap between minorities and non-minorities is inheritances, according to a report by the Brookings Institution. This generational wealth is key to leveling the playing field so your children, grandchildren, and descendants can have a better life. The American dream is to work hard and provide your descendants with a chance for a better life than you had.
How do you provide a headstart in life for your loved ones? First, you can provide them with funds to give them a leg up. These funds could allow:
- A home to provide a solid footing
- A good education to allow a more rapid ascent up the career ladder
- Funds for starting a business
- Economic security
Second, you can leave those assets to them in a manner that protects those assets.
- You can protect those assets from the beneficiary’s mismanagement prior to when they have gained maturity
- You can protect the assets from the beneficiary’s creditors
- You can protect the assets from the beneficiary’s misuse of the assets
You can achieve all of this by using a trust. Let’s look at an example. Jayden and Alyssa have worked hard all their lives. Through their hard work (and a little good fortune) they have been able to build a tidy nest egg. They have two children, Jasmine and Isaiah (Ike). They want all the best for their children, as we all do, and they want them to be able to have an easier start than they did.
Jasmine is level-headed and is a straight-A student. They have greater concerns about Ike, who isn’t as studious as Jasmine. After speaking with their estate planning attorney, Jayden and Alyssa decide upon a plan tailored to their family’s unique needs. Upon the death of the survivor of them, their assets will be split into shares for their two children. Both trusts will have Alyssa’s trusted sister, Janet, as the trustee. Janet will be the trustee of Jasmine’s half until Jasmine is of a suitable age, which they think will be 35. At that age, Jasmine will be the trustee of her own share. Prior to that time, Janet will distribute for Jasmine’s education, support, and other needs. Thus, the assets will provide Jasmine a headstart in life while the assets are protected from misuse and unwise investments in her early adulthood. Then Jasmine can pay it forward to her children when she has them.
Ike is not as studious as Jasmine. In fact, Jayden and Alyssa have some concerns about Ike. Ike has been irresponsible. Ike had an accident while driving under the influence. Luckily, Ike wasn’t hurt, but the passengers in his car and the occupants of the other vehicle involved were injured and received judgments against him. Because of this, they’re giving Janet greater latitude as trustee for Ike’s share. Ike’s share provides distributions to him only in Janet’s discretion. This provides protection from Ike’s creditors. Janet can still make distributions for Ike’s benefit as she sees fit so he can still get a good start in life by getting an education, etc. This ensures the assets will be there for Ike’s benefit and won’t be wasted by Ike or seized by his creditors.
Jayden and Alyssa have worked hard and saved all their lives. They want their children to have an easier start than they did. So, they consulted with an estate planning attorney. After they are gone, they’re leaving their assets for their children in trusts with protection tailored to Jasmine and Ike’s needs. They built their family. They built their nest egg. Now they’ve consulted an estate planning attorney and built a unique plan tailored for their family which will pass on their nest egg to provide a headstart and protections for their family.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.