As a long-time estate planning attorney, I saw a phenomenon early on in my career that impacted me greatly. I worked for a lawyer who had been in law practice more than 25 years, and he said that in the early days of his practice, his clients used to come to him to get help in ensuring that when they died their assets would go to their kids.
Fast forward 25 years, and those same clients were coming back to him to protect their assets FROM their kids.
I thought this was sort of funny, but didn’t think much of it until years later when I would begin to meet many of those “kids” who would one day inherent substantial assets from their parents and realize that these “kids” are adults who are living in various degrees of “disability” due to the way they and their parents are connecting (or not) around their future inheritance. It’s the classic “Family Wealth and inheritance gone wrong” we’re all probably familiar with to some degree.
Let me break it down a little bit more in case it isn’t totally clear:
Over the next 30 to 40 years, approximately $30 Trillion (with a T) will transfer from the remaining members of the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers to their heirs. The oldest members of the Silent Generation are currently 92, the oldest of the Boomers are 71 and the youngest 53. Between these two generational cohorts, people over the age of 53 are holding the vast majority of our total wealth.
And that would seem obvious and natural given that they’ve had the time to earn income and accumulate wealth, but it’s actually a shift from the past in which “senior adults once had the highest poverty rates” according to this article on Neil Howe’s book the Fourth Turning.
On top of that, John Mauldin’s report on the Fourth Turning suggests we are currently in the midst of a societal existential crisis, “one in which society’s strongest institutions collapse (or are severely challenged and stressed) and national survival is in serious doubt.”
We can better understand what all of this means, and why it’s important that the vast majority of our world’s wealth is held by the senior generations, by looking at what’s occurred during prior iterations of Fourth Turnings, which are generational turnings of the wheel — the signing of the Declaration of Independence happened during a Fourth Turning, the start of the Civil War occurred during a Fourth Turning, the 1689 Glorious Revolution and the English defeat of the Spanish Armada, all Fourth Turnings — that are as cyclical as the seasons.
Here’s the bottom line:
The vast majority of our wealth is being held by the senior generation, mostly
invested in old institutions, and we are in the midst of a crisis, in which
there is at least some likelihood that those institutions are about to crash and burn.
And, our junior generations, are in large part, not properly prepared to persuade (or inspire) their parents to shift their investments into alternative investment vehicles that could actually support the creation of the world we want to live in.
On top of that, the senior generations are living longer than ever, investing their resources in longevity, nursing homes, and $3.4 Trillion last year in healthcare costs across the population of the United States. According to this article in the Atlantic “Hundreds of billions of dollars each year are spent treating Americans who are in the last weeks, or days, of life.”
And, these holders of the wealth are not actively anxious to pass on what they’ve earned to the junior generation. In fact, it seems to be just the opposite. They want to hold onto it until they die, which will be too late, and the way I see it is that we have to do everything we can to free up these resources, and re-allocate them to be invested in the systems and structures that will create the world we want to live in.
Imagine what we could do if we were able to free up those resources, get them out of the stock market and the old institutions that are no longer serving, and re-allocate them into sustainable services, and regenerative practices and alternative energies, and other investments that served the greater good?
What if we could re-allocate those resources to the junior generation where they could be put to work innovatively, funding the solutions of the future world we need to create.
In order for that to happen, one major thing needs to take place, first and foremost:
The junior generation needs to step up, fully, and develop the trust in themselves that would be necessary to activate the resources their parents are holding so that the senior generation wants to move assets down to the junior generation during life, instead of waiting until their death.
This is no small feat.
Doing this will require the junior generation to work through some pretty big “projection fields” created by the senior generation. The seniors generation often cannot believe they have raised awesome kids who can be trusted to receive what they’ve created and take care of them, as they would want to be cared for.
And, in many cases, these projection fields aren’t false, but the real manifestation of unhealed wounding and conditioning passed on for many generations. Oftentimes, the junior generation is not yet trustworthy.
But, we can change this. And we must. We need the junior generation to be resourced and funded.
There is a massive inter-generational divide that creates very little trust, and therefore a reality in which our juniors won’t inherit the resources for another 30 or more years, and at that point it could be too late.
On the individual level, our juniors themselves will be well beyond their creative, generative years, by then into their 60s and 70s, and, collectively it may actually be too late, as we are facing our own mass extinction if we don’t hurry up and get creative.
So, what can we each do?
Junior generation: you can begin with an acknowledgement of why the senior generation might not trust you. In many cases, you have collapsed under the weight of your parents projected insecurities. And instead of seeing the pain of those projections as an opportunity to heal, you have taken them on as judgments and attacks you seem unable to recover from.
But, recover you can. And, in fact, you must. The unhealed wounds of the senior generation is your work to process. It may be that you are the first generation in your family to have the emotional and evolutional resource to actually do this healing work.
Your work is the work of forgiveness, compassion and understanding. Reconciliation. Resolve. Finding your adult self and allowing that part to re-parent the wounded inner child, so that you may operate from the remembrance of who you really are, why you are here and what’s yours to do.
From this place, you have the opportunity to inspire your parents to create with you, rather than waiting until their death to pass on your inheritance.
This is your work to do, and you have everything you need to do this work, even if your parents seem as if they will never come along. It’s actually up to you, junior generation, to lead the way.
Senior generation: you can be open to being inspired. You can acknowledge your fear and be willing to see where your fears and worries may be creating the exact reality you say you do not want. You can remain in connection with the junior generation, as they work through the pieces they need to work though in order to build trust with you. And, you can agree to start looking at what you would need to be true in order to pass on your resources, including financial, intellectual, spiritual and human, now.
From this place, you have the opportunity to use that which you have gathered and that which you have learned to create even more during this lifetime — a real legacy + a discovery of the secret to vital aliveness for the rest of your life.
When the junior and senior generations truly come together, there is not only nothing to be afraid of, there is the true possibility for a world that really does work for everyone. Each person fully utilized. Each person remains in full health until the very end of life. Elders can give generously and juniors can receive responsibly.
This is a world we can create together when we change the conversation around family wealth at each generation.