Recently, I read an article entitled “What Makes for Success?” by Kemmons Wilson, the founder of Holiday Inn. He said, “It is great to attain wealth, but money is really just one way—and hardly the best way— to keep score.”
Interesting quote, huh? Most readers of this column call me with tax problems because they have attained wealth (no doubt they do keep score in money), and they don’t want to share that wealth with the IRS. This is perfectly normal.
However, once readers realize that they can pass all of their wealth intact to their family and really eliminate the estate tax, the conversation sometimes turns to other ways that they might keep score. While they are delighted to find legal ways to win the estate tax game, they readily admit that they don’t know how to deal with their other problems and other ways to keep score.
The other problems fall into the general category of little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems. Questions arise such as, Which of my kids should run the business? How do I treat the kids fairly? What about the non-business kids? What happens if one (or more) of my kids gets divorced? How do I take care of my wife (the second one who is 15 years—or more—younger than the caller)? The callers tell me about family problems, business problems and/or assorted personal problems. Every word is important to me, even though I’ve listened to many tales of woe. Although similar, each problem, as explained by each client, has its own peculiar twists and turns.
Let’s face it. Stuff happens. After years of solving wealth transfer, business succession and estate planning problems, experience has taught me that solving only the money problems can never yield a perfect economic and tax plan.
The human stuff, which involves your spouse and kids who support your plan, must be solved, too. What about your son-in-law or daughter-in-law? Do you “love” him/her or is “hate” the better word? I know it sounds corny, but if you really want to win the game of life after you have won the money game, you must attempt to solve the human part—the emotional stuff.
Here’s my suggestion to start the process. Make a “money problem” list and a “human problem” list. Address the money problem list first by solving these three money problems: First, maintain your lifestyle and your spouse’s for as long as you live; second, transfer your business tax free to the business kids; and third, kill the estate tax.
An important note: Unless the client tells us otherwise, we always assume you want to control all your assets, especially your business, for as long as you live.
Once the money problem list is complete, then it’s easier to tackle the human problem list. Interestingly, solving the money problems usually solves some, and often all, of the human problems.
Finally, you must work with experienced professionals who know how to solve both the money problems and the emotional, human stuff that comes when you accumulate significant wealth and then want to pass it to your heirs.
One more thing: Each piece of your final plan, whether intended to solve a money problem or a human problem, must be part of a single comprehensive and integrated plan, all implemented at the same time. Piecemeal planning, based on my 50-plus years of experience, is a disaster that not only adds wealth to the IRS but also fails to satisfy the normal problems of a typical well-to-do family.