Senior Citizen holding three golden eggs in a birds nest

A successful entrepreneur located in Asia was grappling with how to preserve the legacy he'd built with his business. Selling it was out of the question; he wanted it to stay in the family.

“When he was talking about his business, it wasn't just about his children; it was his employees," says Reed, managing director and head of distribution strategy for RBC Wealth Management in Asia. “He's very much had a vested interest in making sure [employees] were going to be OK after he was gone because it was still a private company."

One strategy the client used to get his children involved in the future of the business was to give them roles that both influenced parts of the company and offered them a sense of ownership.​

“It was their choice, but that was how he was transferring both the value and the values to the next generation," Reed says. He describes another scenario where one of the client's children didn't want to be involved in the family business; this makes dividing legacy equally between all children more nuanced. 

It's just one of many challenges facing Asia's global families, as they look to pass wealth on to the next generation, says Vivian Kiang, head of wealth planning for Asia at RBC Wealth Management. A combination of conflicting cultural values and multi-jurisdictional challenges can often arise when the benefactors are living overseas in other countries like Canada, the U.S. or the UK.

So how can Asia's global families ensure values transfer along with the wealth?

Transfer as income rather than an inheritance

Reed points out that many times in Asia, a family's assets are first generation wealth.

“They literally have started a business because of the opening of China or the transition of Hong Kong, and over the years they've built it from nothing," says Reed. It’s created a different sort of attitude towards wealth than Reed witnessed in the UK or U.S. He says one of his clients, a businessman who had come into a large amount of money, struggled with the new reality and how to pass it on.

“He liked the thought of money; he just didn't like the responsibility … which I thought was very profound for this shrewd business person," says Reed. He also didn't want his son to know the full extent of his wealth. “Not because he was trying to hide it, but just because he didn't want that to affect how he grew up."

recent survey by RBC Wealth Management echoed Reed's client's sentiment. While more than half of Asia's business owners surveyed for the report said they have wealth transfer plans in place, 28 percent said they were uncomfortable sharing information with their heirs about their inheritance arrangements.

In cases like this, transferring the wealth in smaller amounts akin to income — as opposed to a lump sum — can help foster a more grounded sense of financial stewardship. According to the RBC Wealth Management survey, 51 percent of Asian families say they intend to gradually gift assets to inheritors during their lifetime.

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Reed says this approach can be especially useful for global families where children go abroad to study.

“The first thing they usually do is help to buy a piece of real estate wherever they land, whether it's the U.S., Canada or London … that's what they'll live in but they also see it as a long-term investment," he says. “Then they'll transfer a regular flow of income to sustain the family abroad instead of giving lump sums."

Set conditions for your heirs to access the wealth

Clients transferring assets to the next generation in their family tend to have conditions their children need to meet before the assets are passed onwards. Reaching a certain age, for instance when their heir turns 19 or 21, is a common stipulation, says Kiang. “In some extremes, they may say, 'One has to take up my business or reach a certain education degree.' "

According to RBC Wealth Management's survey, 64 percent of benefactors in Asia had conditions attached to their inheritance, compared to just a quarter (26 percent) of inheritors in the UK and North America.

But for families where a child doesn't want to be involved in managing the business, ensuring those values transfer while they pursue their own dreams requires a bit more creativity.

“Somebody is actually putting their efforts into the business and reaping the gains and someone's doing something else, should they reap the same gains?" asks Reed, adding equality among heirs is an important virtue in Asian families. So often in these sorts of cases they may freeze the value of the asset and from that point the one who pursues the business beyond that sees the benefit and the other gets an equal inheritance based on that frozen value — be it through shares or directly from the so-called family pot.

Involve your children in family wealth planning

One of the best ways to teach your heirs how to manage money may involve bringing them into the planning itself. According to the survey, 67 percent of individuals involved in general family conversations about wealth feel like they have a greater understanding of what it entails.

A trust may be an effective tool for educating your heirs. They aren't just for distribution, says Kiang, pointing out they can also be used to hold assets that generate income. Involving your adult children in the decision making surrounding the trust can help promote confidence around finances. “Not to have direct control but to somewhat have an influence," she adds.

Shared responsibility can also help minimize potential tension between siblings in cases where there are disagreements around assets.

Philanthropic trusts or foundations can also be good tools for teaching and transferring values, says Reed.

“It's not their money so they can't spend it, but they have control over it and they actually have to be the stewards of that wealth," he says. “I think that's a really powerful way to do it."

He points out that while philanthropy among the wealthy is still on the rise in Asia, he says it's only a matter of time before it becomes a more mainstream part of wealth planning strategies.

“Jack Ma (Alibaba Group founder) is a good example," says Reed. “He's openly spoken about wealth and how there's only so much you can have or need … I think as time goes on and there's more wealth earned or accumulated, people will start becoming more philanthropic."

Transferring values from a distance

As Asia's global families go overseas, trading values and cultural inputs with the different countries they choose to call home, Kiang says wealth management advisors are apt to play a more important role in connecting generations over the distance.

“What they really need to remember is, whatever you set up in Asia, ultimately it's the person in Canada benefiting from the assets," says Kiang. Having a team of financial advisors and tax professionals can help ensure the trust structures are set up so everyone benefits.

It also helps, practically speaking, to have someone who understands the cultural values of both countries. “Choose a financial institution that can link up the two locations," says Kiang. “Someone who can meet with the parents in Asia and distribute the assets in Canada or the U.S."

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