From The Wise Inheritor’s Guide to Freedom from Wealth: Making Family Wealth Work for You

An excerpt from the forthcoming book The Wise Inheritor’s Guide to Freedom from Wealth: Making Family Wealth Work for You.

by Charles A. Lowenhaupt

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Some 20 years ago, I moderated one of the first sessions for wealth inheritors offered by a preeminent global membership network for families of substantial wealth. The group offers programs, advice, and educational services in a private, collaborative setting, to help people of all ages understand, wisely invest, and build a healthy relationship with their wealth. Fifteen people between the ages of 21 and 30 attended the event. They were given the task of choosing a topic of conversation related to wealth inheritance, and then I was to lead and guide the discussion. 

Although I’d given many talks and led countless discussions in my then 25 years as a wealth advisor to ultrahigh net worth families around the globe, what happened in that room gave me new insights into the challenges faced by wealth inheritors. The experiences of these 15 people taught me that growing up with wealth is not easy.

I looked to one young man to get the ball rolling, and, without hesitation, he said, “It is much harder to grow up rich than poor.”

I bit my tongue and decided to let that comment roll for a while. The theme went around the room. One person after the other talked about the difficulties he had had growing up with wealth. Here are a few of the comments I heard that day:

“I had a friend from school to my house to spend the night. He arrived and saw the size of my house, all the rooms we had, and our maids, and his eyes widened. From that day on, I knew that the only reason he wanted to be my friend was that he thought it was neat our family had so much money.”

“My grandfather lived with us and had a chauffeur and a Rolls-Royce. Whenever my friends came over, I was embarrassed because we had so much money. So I really never invited anyone to my house. That made it easier.”

“I wanted to sign up for a soccer team with some of my friends from school. The club met on Saturday morning and my father told me that our bank was going to have classes for me and others in how to manage money. I was only 14 and didn’t really care about managing money, but my father told me learning how to manage my money was more important than playing soccer.”

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“My parents put me through this charade of pretending we were poor. When I was 10 or 11, I had to get a $10 weekly allowance and had to budget how to spend it and how much to give to charity. My parents told me I had to be frugal and try to save for college. Meanwhile, they had their own private plane and we had a household staff of five or six. My father had a chauffeur take him to Wall Street every day. It all seemed like nonsense to me as I knew we were what the world called ‘rich.’”

“My parents had so much money that they travelled all the time and never stayed home with my sister and me. Flying here and there and the next place on their own plane, we were cared for by nannies and others. What kind of home life was that?”

“‘You will always have whatever you need or want,’ said my grandfather to me when I was 15. ‘Someday, all of the money I have earned will be yours and all you have to do is keep it well invested and not lose it to the crooks out there always looking for rich people to bilk.’ When I told him I wanted to go to engineering school and become a computer engineer, he told me: ‘No need! You will go to Princeton as I did and you can hire other people to fix your computer.’ He never understood.”

After a half hour of hearing their complaints and their unhappiness, I asked whether a person from a lower-income background would understand that growing up “rich” is more difficult than growing up “poor.” “Maybe not,” said one, “but they would never understand.” We discussed the idea without conclusion, but I saw an obvious pattern emerging.

Those 15 confirmed everything most adults suspect about young people; adolescents can be tremendously unhappy, and, when they are, they look to someone to blame. Who else to denounce besides their parents? More importantly, they confirmed a fundamental truth I had not completely understood before that session. Although most every young person, regardless of their socioeconomic background, has experienced similar feelings toward their parents or upbringing, the difference for those who have grown up in a seeming “lap of luxury” is that they face a serious issue that many people aren’t willing to talk about: they are trapped by the burdens of wealth.

Growing up in families of $100 million or $250 million or $500 million or more presents for many this fundamental issue: How can a wealth inheritor lead a life unencumbered by the burdens of family wealth? How can individuals achieve self-actualization and a feeling of fulfillment? In other words, how can they grow up to become fully realized individuals, seeing their wealth not as an impediment, nor a crutch, but as something that might help them succeed?

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It was clear that the young people in that room were raised by parents and grandparents whose wealth was the defining character of their personal identities. As they grew up, those young people lived in the shadow of their parents and their parents’ wealth. When looking for the reason for adolescent unhappiness, they pointed to their wealth. They lacked the perspective that can come with independence over time. They needed experience they could only gain as productive people making their own way through the world with direction and freedom.

When we’re young, perspective is often absent. When I was teaching English at an elite Eastern boarding school, many years ago, I tutored the teenaged son of a wealthy and prominent name in all the social circles. He was a likeable boy, but very lazy. I spent hours trying to teach him how to write with proper punctuation and grammar. One day, in frustration, I said: “You just have to learn how to write; you cannot grow up without that ability!”

“Mr. Lowenhaupt,” he replied, “You and I both know that all I have to know how to write is my name on a check.” That stopped me in my tracks. A successful life is much more than simply signing checks, a fact that young man learned over time as he became a Phi Beta graduate of a good college and went on to a successful career, entirely on his own.

As stated in a March 6, 2015, article for Reuters, “Baby boomers will leave more than an estimated $30 trillion to younger generations over the next 30 years.” With such a large amount of money comes an even larger amount of responsibility, but “wealth alone” should not define a person’s life (even if it defines the life of one’s parent). If you grow up with wealth, if you are a wealth inheritor, if you are one of those inheriting a piece of that $30 trillion, how do you get on with life?

So how do you chase the American Dream or the Chinese, Indian, or Australian Dream, the dream of the human soul to become all you can be? You start by figuring out what that wealth is for; you consider that you want to live in a world of peace, beauty, and health; you consider community. To succeed and become one’s true self, it’s imperative to create a healthy relationship with wealth at a young age and continue that relationship until it’s time to pass that wealth, and knowledge, onto the next generation.

At the heart of the many challenges wealth inheritors face is the ability to take control of their own lives. Control always requires two sides: the person exercising control and the person being controlled. Many times, this struggle exists between parents and their children. In this book, you will find many stories of people who break that dynamic in one way or another, but one that I want to share with you at the outset is that of an only child who was born into the wealthiest family in Malaysia. His father used family wealth to try to control his son’s actions and decisions, leaving the son miserable and unfulfilled. When he was in his early twenties, however, the son found a higher calling, joined a Buddhist monastery, and took a vow of poverty. This, of course, infuriated the father, but gave the son independence that led to happiness and contentment. Unless you can develop such independence, you will never experience true freedom.

In the chapters that follow, I identify 10 specific challenges facing young, wealthy people today. I draw on the experience and wisdom of the more than a century that my family has been working for wealth creators and inheritors, explore some of the solutions to the issues wealth inheritors face, and discover the many opportunities they have to lead inspired lives of self-actualization and freedom. When you finish this book, I hope you will be motivated to pursue a life of self-actualization with freedom from wealth, and you will be committed to helping your children and grandchildren chase their dreams. Whether you are an inheritor of wealth or the parent of an inheritor, I hope you will have the wisdom and capabilities to have a healthy relationship with your wealth and your family. I am here to help you.

Now, let’s begin!

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