I must confess my sin. For more than thirty-five years, as a CPA very good at what I do, I assisted in building little empires.
Having grown up poor, the intent was pure. I wanted those, for whom I served, to have the best that money can buy. What I discovered was that my Grandpa Foard was right, “Too much money will make people go crazy.”
There is never enough money. The more stuff people accumulate — the more unhappy they become. Which then fuels the fire for them chasing after even more of what is making them miserable.
During those 35+ years of doing a great job for the Trust Fund Babies, I noticed something — those were the, only, individuals in the ranks of the thousands of clients I served, who would throw a fit. You know, a good ol’ two-year-old temper tantrum — the aisle blocking, head turning, hushed murmuring, and clerk cringing — type of hissy-fit.
Why did they do it? Because they are spoiled. Clueless to the bone, they are chock full of arrogance and ignorance. If they knew half as much about what they think they know, they’d know twice as much as they really do.
They were born on third base, thinking they hit a triple — and, then, they will lie through their teeth as they try to convince you it was a Home Run.
The grandparents, of the Trust Fund Babies, worked hard to build something — special. Then, generally, Mom and Dad were expected to maintain what Grandma and Grandpa built. Unknown to little Junior, as he struggles to deal with what has shown up on his silver platter, he is the Janitor’s son. And, by the time we move to the fourth generation of this Family, everything has reset.
The wealth that Mom and Dad inherited from Grandma and Grandpa was slowly chiseled down in size — because they were playing not to lose, rather than working hard to build something special, of their own. Junior has no idea how the Empire was built (because Grandpa is gone and Dad has neglected to teach) — and, Junior has even less knowledge of how anything operates. If something breaks it remains broken.
So, at the end of the third generation, the Ranch (or, the main-street Business) is on the Auction Block. If by some stroke of luck the remaining wealth passes to the fourth generation, it will soon be squandered. At that moment, a Universal Principle kicks in.
If you want to eat, you must work.
What appeared to be a life of luxury to the poor kids of the world, became an affliction and a limitation for the Trust Fund Babies.
Fifty years ago, as a twelve-year-old kid, I thought it harsh that the mistakes of parents carried over to the children and grandchildren. Why must they suffer for the bad choices their elders made?
I believe it’s because of another one of those darn ol’ Universal Principles. For example, Gravity — it’s real, it’s unseen, and it’s hard to explain. However, it works the same way every time. We can take comfort in that and depend on its consistency. Or, for those who doubt the effectiveness — and take a flying leap from a tall building — they will learn the hard way.
Universal Principle: Shirtsleeves-To-Shirtsleeves in three Generations
The fact that family wealth rarely, if ever, survives through more than three generation is a belief that spans the globe and almost all of recorded history. As far back as 2,000 years ago, Chinese philosophy was that “Wealth never survives three generations.” Medieval England put it this way: “Clogs to clogs in three generations,” while the Spanish put it even more succinctly in the 1500’s: “First generation, Trader; second generation, Gentleman; third generation, Beggar.”
Here in the US, the expression “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” was a commonly-held belief in the 1800s. And statistics seem to support the theory.
According to Vic Preisser, co-author of Preparing Heirs: Five Steps to a Successful Transition of Family Wealth and Values, “advisors concentrate on preparing assets for heirs, but lack the tools and training to prepare heirs for assets.”
“First generation, Trader; second generation, Gentleman; third generation, Beggar.” Well said — that’s exactly what I’ve seen unfold in many Families.
After those 35+ years of holding the hands and wiping the snotty noses of way too many Juniors, I burned out. After two years, of what I call, “My trip through the desert,” one day, my son, Ryan, had questions. In fact, I remember the day, well — January 11, 2018.
He came to the closed bedroom door, knocked lightly, and said that he had a question. So, I went with him to his office area, stood behind him, as he pulled up a QuickBooks screen and wiggled his mouse over the real estate where his Question resided. I answered that question and went back to the bedroom.
A few minutes, later, another tap on the door and another question. Same song, second verse: I went with him to his office area, stood behind him, as he pulled up a QuickBooks screen and wiggled his mouse over the real estate where his Question resided. I answered that question and went back to the bedroom.
A few minutes later, another tap on the door and another question. Well, by now, I’m thinking, “OK – Ryan has lots of questions. I might as well just stand there with him and answer them all.”
Sure enough, seven hours later, after a review of the mistakes on the two prior years of Tax Returns and detailed Depreciation Schedules prepared by the best CPA that Ryan could find, the tumblers of the lock on my mind turned and I realized, “I’m the best — CPA in the Country.”
I’ve heard people talk about being Born Again — and, always, wondered what that was all about. Now, I know. I wasn’t “back” — as Arnold might say. I felt like a brand new person. Later, as I searched for something of which to compare the feeling, the best I can do is, “I feel like I’m in the fourth grade, again!”
Once — and, For All Time
So, why did I recently agree to one more Consulting engagement to provide services for the benefit of another Trust Fund Baby? Answer: Old habits, similar to bad beliefs, die hard. Does tilting at windmills come to mind?!
This particular specimen of a Trust Fund Baby is 75 years old and is still as clueless as he was at age 25 — when Grandpa’s money was used to buy him a Ranch. He was put on the Ranch and offered an opportunity on a silver platter. Now – that I think about it – Junior is just like a Post Turtle.
When you’re driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top. That’s a post turtle. You know he didn’t get there by himself; he doesn’t belong there; he can’t get anything done while he’s up there; and, without help to get down, he’s stranded!
Junior could not articulate the specific Objectives he wanted me to resolve, he had no idea how to Measure our progress, and he offered little feedback about the Value he was receiving. What begins twisted, ends twisted.
After two months of a six-month commitment to provide services, I had grown tired of being a valet for his ego. I suggested that my “work” was done and he had no further responsibility to honor our Agreement. Junior insisted that I stay — he needed to use me, some more.
However, after four months of enduring his silliness, “Oh, Wow! — did he pop a cork when I asked him, “Why?”
Why do you want to withhold information and keep me in the dark?
The sniveling little pup did a Trump on me, too, while yelling into the phone (so loudly he was cutting out and I asked him to repeat his foul language), “You’re fired!”
What a blessing!
I think I’ve passed — in flying colors — the final exam in the high-level coursework of Trust Fund Babies.
Oh, by the way, this Consulting engagement was to assist in the transition of Junior off the Ranch. Because of the two clowns for Realtors he had chosen, I finally asked, “After their neglect of an important issue (to the tune of $150,000), why do you continue to believe their nonsense?”
Around the 25-year mark, in the 35+ years of my crusade, as a CPA to save the world, I noticed something. I felt dirty. As I served the Trust Fund Babies, there was no appreciation or recognition of the Value my efforts produced for them. They were paying me and I was doing things for the money. There’s a name for those kinds of people — Hookers.
Confession without repentance is counterfeit spirituality. As you are my witness, I fully and completely give up the old way to enjoy my rebirth.
The scholars among us will take great offense at the concept of not leaving children and grandchildren a monetary inheritance. They will even pretend to have God on their side of the argument and quote an old Proverb.
Good people leave an inheritance to their grandchildren, but the sinner’s wealth passes to the godly.
Well, here’s the Real Deal — I don’t see a single reference to Money in the phrase (before the comma) about good people. Do you?
I know – for a fact – that my Grandchildren will receive an inheritance from me. No, it will not be because my Lindsey and Ryan were anxious for me to tip over — so they might win the Lottery of wealth untold.
The inheritance that my Children will pass on to my Grandchildren will be everything they have learned from me. I have diligently provided opportunities for Lindsey and Ryan to learn everything they need, to be successful in this life — and beyond.