One of the most common questions we get from our clients is, “how do we give our children our money without ruining them?”
Much has been written on the topic – and deservedly so. We have all heard the stories of lottery winners, celebrities, athletes and “trust babies” who fritter away their lives and money after receiving a financial windfall.
There is a wonderful movie relating to this dilemma that I have shared with many of my clients called The Ultimate Gift. Without giving away too much, James Garner plays the recently deceased grandfather of Jason – a classic “trust baby” living a playboy’s life.
On his grandfather’s death, however, Jason’s trust funds are abruptly cut off. Through a series of videos the grandfather made before his death, he teaches Jason that he must learn to appreciate 12 gifts in order to receive his inheritance. These gifts could also be termed as values we want to transfer to our heirs along with our property.
The Value of Work I was born in Tucson, Arizona just before finals during my dad’s first year of law school at the University of Arizona. I now appreciate the pressure he must have been under as I was 2 weeks late and born much closer to finals than he was expecting!
Two years later he graduated from law school, worked for a small firm for 3 years and concluded the practice of law was not for him. So he did the most logical thing one can imagine and opened up a large hardware store!
Phelps Building Materials was the hardware mega store before there was Home Depot and a magical place for me. My grandpa on my mom’s side worked there. I had cousins who worked there. To this day I can see the kind faces of Gladys the cashier and my dad’s assistant, Tessie.
To this day when I walk into a Home Depot, Lowe’s, ACE or True Value the smell of a hardware store brings back a flood of memories. To me, that smell is the smell of work. My dad made a point to pay me wages based on the number of hours I worked with silver dollars in order to teach me the value of work and the value of money.
During the summers my dad would have me run a series of long extension cords from the store out to the corner of Broadway and Sirrine. I would plug in a 1950’s 1/3 horsepower Echol’s sno-cone machine left over from my grandpa’s grocery store – the business that preceded Phelps Building Materials in that building.
I would shave ice and sell sno-cones for $.25 each at that busy intersection in the 110 degree heat and collect the money in an orange metal toolbox from my dad’s hardware store. I remember my best day – $15. That’s 60 sno-cones! I still have the sno-cone machine as a reminder of those summer days.
The Value of Friendship
Yesterday my friend passed away. Throughout his life he struggled with a variety of mental and physical disabilities.
I also learned we have a common love of classic movies – Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, John Wayne and Alfred Hitchcock are our common favorites. He confessed to me once with absolutely no shame that he had just finished watching a Shirley Temple movie – alone.
We also enjoyed sharing our expressions of faith with each other. David did not have an easy life but I saw in his eyes deep conviction. He knew who he was and that he would be made whole in a coming day through the grace of Him who David and I both believe saved us.
Five months ago David lost consciousness and fell and broke his neck. Other than a few swallowing tests, he had nothing to eat or drink – living on an IV and a feeding tube while he recuperated from two especially invasive surgeries to repair his broken neck.
He had not been home in 5 months, moving back and forth between hospitals and rehabilitation facilities due to respiratory issues indirectly related to his original injury.
At his bedside throughout this ordeal was Pam – his wife of 41
years. In David’s own words to me, Pam was “my wife and my best friend.”
Thanksgiving weekend, Pam fell and broke her hip. She had surgery and was on the road to a healthy recovery until just before Christmas when emergency personnel were called to her home because she was having trouble breathing. Shortly after arriving at the hospital Pam passed away from what was determined to be a pulmonary embolism.
For the family and friends of David and Pam this was obviously a big shock. With many others, I was with David often during the days following Pam’s death to help abate the shock, loss and loneliness even as he struggled with his own serious health concerns.
Throughout the week after Pam died my friend was surrounded by many of our common friends – Cole, Daryn, Alex, John, Jessica, Gayelynne, Joel, David, Riis, Jeff, Bob, Penny, and others.
As I process the fact that David is gone, I consider a classic movie my friend loved and which I watched with my family over the Christmas holiday – Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart.
In the final scene, George Bailey finds a gift from his guardian angel, Clarence – a first edition copy of Tom Sawyer. On the inside cover the inscription to George from Clarence reads, “No man is a failure who has friends.”
This week especially, I am grateful for the Value of Friendship.
Few words in the English language evoke as strong and varied response as the word. From the Bible and the Beatles – “the root of all evil” and “Can’t buy me love” – to Warren Buffet – “Money is not everything. Make sure you earn a lot before speaking such nonsense.”
Carl Sandburg captured the contradictory nature of money when he said, “Money is power, freedom, a cushion, the root of all evil, the sum of blessings.” Even as a second generation estate planning attorney, entrepreneur and one who has been earning money since the age of 6 I am still trying to understand money.
But along the way I have learned some lessons about money from family members, friends, clients, spiritual leaders, and many books – too many lessons to share in one blog post. (I look forward to revisiting this topic often on the estateplanningUS.com blog.)
I remember my dad saying to me more than once that I needed to learn “the value of money.” This was confusing to me because in my mind I thought money was value.
Over time I learned that he wasn’t trying to teach me what money could buy, he was teaching me that the value of money lies in the worthwhile things it can do:
provide physical security
provide an education
provide personal growth and fulfillment
provide these things for others
The book teaches the reader how money works in simple, timeless terms taught through compelling fables. Some of the principles include:
“A part of all you earn is yours to keep.”
“Money is plentiful for those who understand the simple laws which govern its acquisition”
…and the Seven Cures for a Lean Purse:
1. Start Thy Purse to Fattening
2. Control Thy Expenditures
3. Make Thy Gold Multiply
4. Guard Thy Treasures from Loss
5. Make of Thy Dwelling a Profitable Investment
6. Insure a Future Income
7. Increase Thy Ability to Earn
The concepts in this book resonated with and excited me even at a young age. I have gone back to the Richest Man in Babylon many times through the years and have shared it with my children.
My family and I were hit hard by the economic crisis of 2008. During this difficult time Wendy and I were still raising a young family and our toddler son had some serious health problems that caused us to incur medical bills beyond our ability to pay without going into debt.
Not long after this my grandpa who introduced me to the Richest Man in Babylon died and unexpectedly left all of his grandchildren a portion of his estate to be used for medical expenses. We were able to pay off the debts we had incurred to cover my son’s medical bills. My grandpa’s generosity and the generosity of my cousin who was administering his estate was a true gift to our young family during a most difficult time.
If we’re going to transfer our money to our heirs, we should also transfer the Value of Money.
As the oldest of 10 children and the father of 7, this Value is near and dear to me. Organizational behavior expert and author Stephen Covey asked, “How many on their deathbeds wished they’d spent more time at the office? The answer is, No one.”
The Guardian magazine wrote about Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies her blog, which turned into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
The Guardian reported how Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”
Most Common Deathbed Regrets The most common regret was not having the courage to live a life true to themselves, instead of the life others expected of them. I will save this topic for another day.
The second most common regret was not spending more time with the ones they love:
“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.“
Learning What’s Really Important The first 10 years of my legal career were spent in the courtroom. The thrill of competition and employing the art of persuasion to win my cases was an adrenaline rush.
The day my 6th child was born I was on my laptop in the birthing room working on a motion for summary judgment for one of my cases. 6 weeks later while I was in the middle of intense preparations for an upcoming wrongful death jury trial, our baby stopped breathing.
My wife rushed Ben to the hospital where he was diagnosed with RSV and pneumonia and soon after also contracted the influenza virus. The spinal taps, lung suctioning and seeing our infant son constantly poked and prodded during his time at the children’s hospital was traumatic. Thanks to many prayers, modern medicine and a team of great medical professionals, Ben recovered.
A month and a half later I finished my jury trial, hung up my briefcase and have not set foot in a courtroom since.
I’m not really a country song guy but my wife introduced me to two songs that have reminded me through the years of the importance of prioritizing time with family – Let Them Sleep in the Middle and You’re Gonna Miss this.
Among all of the 12 Values, I am most grateful for the Value of Family.