Why families should transfer knowledge before wealth

Wealth transfer

The benefits of bringing kids up to speed on family finances.


For many Americans, there’s a disconnect between how they intend for their wealth to be passed on to the next generation and what actually happens once that wealth changes hands.

For some, a simple lack of estate planning impairs their good intentions. But in many of cases, it’s the inheritor’s lack of financial knowledge and limited insight into family finances that stands in the way of families leaving lasting legacies.

According to a survey conducted by RBC Wealth Management in conjunction with Scorpio Partnership, most inheritors simply aren’t prepared to deal with the realities of receiving a large inheritance. In fact, the late age at which most people first start learning about money matters is a key cause for that disconnect.

The survey found the average age that Americans reported starting their structured education on wealth and money is 28—which is only one year before the age at which most survey respondents receive an inheritance. That’s problematic, because the RBC Wealth Management research suggests those who begin their financial education earlier in life are more confident with their financial matters. Indeed, 70 percent of American respondents who received a financial education before the age of 18 said they’re confident in their grasp of financial matters, the survey found.

“There’s a big chasm there,” says Liz Jacovino, RBC Wealth Management–U.S. wealth strategist. “People recognize that it’s probably a good thing for everyone to have a sense of financial literacy. But how do you get there?”

The earlier the better

As survey respondents seem to recognize, educating children about financial topics early in life can help to ensure they have the tools necessary for sound financial management. And the earlier the better, according to Dean Deutz, RBC Wealth Management–U.S. private wealth consultant.

“For kids who have an allowance, or for those who get paid for making the bed or taking the garbage out, it helps them understand the responsibilities and benefits of having money,” says Deutz. “It’s never too early to start.”  

Beginning the education process when the children are younger also enables parents to exercise control over the learning environment, says Bill Ringham, director of private wealth strategies at RBC Wealth Management–U.S.

“If your children are already outside of your home or off to college, there aren’t as many day-to-day learning opportunities,” notes Ringham. “Once they’re living on their own, the mistakes they make might be more severe.”

While it seems simple enough, going shopping is a great learning opportunity that arises on a regular basis, says Ringham. When parents make purchases in front of their children with cash, rather than with checks or credit card, they can help boost their child’s understanding of basic financial concepts.

“Using cash is easier [for kids to understand], because it gives a tangible component to buying something. You use the money to actually purchase it at the time when you buy it,” says Ringham.

Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching children about family wealth or financial literacy. Every situation is unique, and every family’s specific circumstances will dictate how and when to begin teaching those lessons.

“From a family’s perspective, determining when you start is going to come at different times and from different angles,” Jacovino says.

Conversations lead to success

A lack of communication between benefactors and inheritors is yet another barrier to ensuring a smooth transfer of wealth, the survey found.

While 72 percent of American respondents who’ve had advance conversations with their benefactors say they were made aware of the value of inheritance, only 31 percent say they were told how their benefactor wanted them to use the wealth being passed on.

By bringing kids up to speed on financial topics earlier in life, parents can better prepare them to begin having those important conversations about family wealth at an earlier stage as well.

Once a child has a good understanding of the value and origins of money, and once they reach a higher level of maturity, Jacovino says it might be appropriate to start having more complicated conversations. “That’s when conversations about family wealth should start.”  

“It’s a delicate thing,” adds Deutz. “But one of the best things people can do is to have those frank conversations.”

By providing critical communication during the process, parents can provide their children with the tools they need to successfully inherit wealth—and be good stewards of that wealth for their next generation.

Experience is the best teacher

As with many things in life, experience is key. The RBC Wealth Management study found that those who have already received an inheritance are more likely to plan for the smooth transfer of their assets to their own children or heirs. In fact, the research found that 32 percent of respondents who have inherited before now have a full wealth strategy in place for the future.

More importantly, those who have already gone through the inheritance process are more likely to know the value of having those difficult but important conversations about family finances and money in general, says Deutz. “People who have inherited themselves are more likely to have that conversation with their children or grandchildren,” he adds.

Indeed, the study found a direct correlation between preparedness and confidence in wealth preservation. For those with a wealth transfer plan in place, 58 percent say they’re confident that their children will be able to preserve their wealth.

“Inheritors who are more financially savvy are better positioned to be successful with protecting and preserving that wealth. They understand the value of continuing the dialogue around financial literacy with children, grandchildren and other beneficiaries,” says Jacovino. “If individuals are educated about finances, they are more likely to be good stewards with the money they inherit.”

RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, registered investment adviser and Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.

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