Establishing a family office is a holistic family wealth management solution
Traditional models of wealth management focus solely on the portfolio. This model is flawed, however, as it doesn’t take into account the entire family picture. Seventy percent of family wealth doesn’t transition to the next generation due to a lack of both preparing the wealth for the family and preparing the family for the wealth.
“Families often don’t have an orderly way to pass on their wealth, but the odds of failure are too large to ignore,” says Lauren Peterson, Senior Vice President, Client Advisor at Whittier Trust in Family Office services. “It is important to ready heirs for the transition to be good stewards of the wealth that is to come.”
Here, Peterson explains the integrated approach that creates sustainable best practices for successful families.
Establish a Family Office or Engage a Multi-Family Office
Establishing a family office is a holistic approach to wealth management and legacy that guides, supports and educates heirs for a more successful wealth-transfer rate. “A professional family office will engage with a family to support investments, values and the next generation,” says Peterson.
While the older generation can certainly create a single-family office themselves, there is a lot of heavy lifting to do, which might not be appealing at this point in their lives. “Our clients often turn to Whittier Trust for our expertise. We are a multi family office with expert professionals working with similar families who have complex needs who need guidance to meet their goals,” says Peterson, who notes that unlike other firms that might have 100 families per advisor, Whittier has a Client Advisor and support team with unlimited availability for families or less. A team might consist of a Senior Advisor, Junior Advisor, Analyst, Senior Portfolio Advisor and other team members in real estate, philanthropy and more as needed.
Another unique aspect of Whittier’s family office services is that while a Senior Advisor may work with the parents, a Junior Advisor is assigned to younger family members so that everyone can feel comfortable working with someone closer to their age to get support, training and guidance.
Create a Holistic Governance Structure
Once team members have been selected based on the family’s needs, the family office team then does a deep dive to look at all aspects, from financial documents to family dynamics. “We revise any governance structures, work with their CPA and legal team, look at all their documents and discuss it with the family so that they know what their documents say and mean,” Peterson says.
Many of the clients Whittier works with have been CEOs or business owners and are used to creating a strategic plan. The goal of the family office is to help clients put together a structure and family strategic plan that lasts multiple generations. “We help them look at their family as a family business including all aspects, such as the legal structures, financial statements, operating companies, and if necessary, different entities. We often review the different agreements for profits split amongst family members,” says Peterson. “We do this to ensure quality communication and transparency among all stakeholders, as this build family continuity.”
She adds that this process typically involves creating a family constitution that includes the family’s values, who makes the decisions and goals for how the family will interact together now and well into the future. Peterson and her team work to give every family member a voice and family unity, which may include coordinating a family retreat and/or training about the purpose of a family office.
Promote Family Harmony
One of the most important ways to promote family harmony is communication and for everyone to know their roles and responsibilities. “We like to involve the entire family—both bloodline and spouses. The family will tell us how much they want their kids or family members to know, but we make a concerted effort to make unifying decisions,” says Peterson. She notes that this often includes the parents accepting the input of their heirs without giving up their mission and values, as well as spouses being able to weigh in on what they want for their children.
Another popular way families choose to promote harmony is by focusing on philanthropy. “Establishing philanthropic giving goals through a family charitable trust, foundation or donor advised fund can be a way of facilitating good family dynamics and to work together to create a long-term family mission,” Peterson says.
Prioritize Education for Long-term Sustainability
Many heirs have had no direct experience with family finances or in making decisions about their family’s wealth. Therefore, the Whittier team does a lot of work to help prepare children to become good stewards of their family’s wealth. This can go as far as providing a deep dive talent assessment and looking at hard and soft skills to determine the roles that will be a good fit for each individual, in addition to educating them about those roles.
“Education and communication are the two solutions to prepare the next generation,” Peterson says. By establishing a family office and following these best practices, a family can transition wealth successfully and prepare heirs for wealth and maintaining the family legacy.
“When families come to us, they stay for generations. We’re a long-term relationship company,” Peterson says.