Efficient tax planning demands a forward-thinking approach, strategically organizing financial affairs to minimize tax liability. An essential element of this approach is the anticipation and understanding of changes in tax laws over time.

The last major overhaul of the tax code came in 2017 when many tax code provisions were changed or added by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, commonly referred to as the TCJA. Most of the TCJA provisions that impact individuals, estates, and pass-through entities will expire or phase out in 2025, an event being referred to as the Great Tax Sunset. However, the TCJA’s biggest change impacting the taxation of C corporations, reducing the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, will not sunset. This means that while the highest individual income tax bracket will increase from 37% to 39.6% after 2025, the C corporation tax rate will not change and will remain at 21%. 

The TCJA also introduced the Qualified Business Income deduction, or QBI deduction. This allowed taxpayers to deduct up to 20% of business income from flow-through entities, such as businesses that appear on Schedule C, as well as S corporations and partnerships. The QBI deduction was originally intended to help businesses that were not C corporations compete with the new 21% tax rate for C corporations. The QBI deduction is currently scheduled to be eliminated after 2025. 

While it is impossible to predict what tax legislation will be implemented by a future Congress and POTUS, the sunsetting of QBI, the increase of the highest marginal tax rate for individuals, and the continuation of C corporation tax rate makes choosing the appropriate entity for a small business owner less straightforward than it was before 2017. 

To illustrate, imagine five taxpayers, each owning an equal share of a C corporation doing business in 2017, before the implementation of the TCJA’s modified tax rates. The C corporation has a net income of $1,000,000 and pays 35% income tax, or $350,000. For the sake of simplicity, all remaining income is distributed to the five taxpayers and none of the distribution is considered compensation. The taxpayers pay tax at the highest long-term capital gains tax rate plus net investment income tax on the dividend, or 23.8%. The tax paid by all taxpayers in this example is $504,700, for an overall effective tax rate of 50.47%. 

Compare this to the taxation of an LLC owned and operated by five partners with equal ownership. The LLC has a net income of $1,000,000, pays no income tax, and passes the income to its five partners. For the sake of simplicity, all remaining income distributed to the five partners is subject to the highest marginal individual tax rate of 39.6%, and none of the income is considered compensation. The five partners pay a total of $396,000 in tax for an overall effective tax rate of 39.6%. The basic illustration demonstrates why C corporations were seldom used as an entity of choice by small business owners since one level of taxation is considerably lower than two levels of taxation for C corporations.  

After the TCJA, C corporation taxation became more appealing as the tax rate was lowered from 35% to 21%. Using the same example above, let’s imagine that the same C corporation doing business in 2018 has a net income of $1,000,000 and pays 21% income tax, or $210,000. The remaining net income is distributed to shareholders who then pay tax at the highest long-term capital gains tax rate plus net investment income tax on the dividend, or 23.8%. The total tax paid by all taxpayers in this example is now $398,020, for an overall effective tax rate of 39.8%. That’s a huge improvement for the two levels of tax for C corporations. 

Pass-through owners also had a new advantage under the TCJA with the QBI deduction. As a comparison, the same LLC with a net income of $1,000,000 passes its income to its five partners. Each of the five partners can fully utilize the 20% QBI deduction, which reduces the taxable income from $1,000,000 to $800,000 for all five partners. The five partners pay $296,000 in tax at the highest marginal tax rate for individuals, now lowered to 37%. While C corporation taxation became more appealing, it was still not as appealing as a pass-through entity where individual taxpayers could take a QBI deduction.

However, this is about to change. That same C corporation doing business in 2026, after the Great Tax Sunset will continue to have its $1,000,000 of net income taxed at 21%. Nothing else changes for C corporations in this example, and the total tax paid by all taxpayers is again $398,020, for an overall effective tax rate of 39.8% 

The five partners of that same LLC can no longer take advantage of the QBI deduction, which was eliminated in the Great Tax Sunset. Furthermore, the highest marginal tax rate for individuals increased from 37% to 39.6%. The five partners now pay $396,000 in tax for an overall effective tax rate of 39.6%. Suddenly, pass-throughs no longer have the dominant tax advantage they had a few years before. 

Lastly, one intriguing side-effect of the corporate tax rate reduction was the renewed interest in the Qualified Small Business Stock exclusion, also referred to as the QSBS exclusion. This tax benefit allows C corporation owners to sell stock without incurring capital gains tax after a statutory period. This additional benefit may tip the balance in favor of C corporations for many small business owners. 

Does this mean small business owners should run out and check the box of their LLCs to be treated as C corporations? It is impossible to know what the future holds for tax law changes. While it is not so difficult from a tax perspective to move an LLC treated as a partnership to an LLC treated as a C corporation, it is far more difficult to go back the other way. Nevertheless, if nothing else changes, the analysis of entity choice for small business owners is far more interesting. The Great Tax Sunset will play a significant role in tax planning for several years to come.

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There’s no denying that artificial intelligence is developing quickly—at warp speed, even. In fact, in March 2023, some of the biggest names in technology—including Elon Musk and other professors, researchers, and business leaders—signed a letter asking for a pause for artificial intelligence labs training AI systems out of concern for the dangers such technology may present. Additionally, the United States and the United Kingdom have held high-level summits about AI safety in 2023. 

Even with such concerns about what a proliferation of AI could mean for society as a whole when it comes to AI and wealth management, there’s a place for using tools based on technology. “When you’re looking for a statistical or high-level outcome or solution, it’s helpful,” says Whittier Trust SVP and Senior Portfolio Manager, Teague Sanders, who notes that quantum computers, such as the one built by Google, are approximately 158 million times more powerful than the supercomputers used today. That means that answers—from researching companies that may present investment opportunities to pulling numbers to analyze industry trends—can be at our fingertips more quickly than ever. Savvy client services advisors can leverage such technologies to inform expedient answers, recommendations, and reporting.

Fact-checking: a vital component for the use of AI in wealth management

Large language models (LLMs) are deep databases pre-trained on mind-boggling amounts of information. That’s why ChatGPT Bard, LLaMA, PaLM2, and many more have become popular tools for asking a question and waiting for an (almost instant) answer. While Sanders says that Whittier Trust has subscriptions to some LLMs because they can be useful for summarizing things and finding links and patterns, Whittier Trust team members always thoroughly double-check the results to verify the veracity of the information. Case in point: “There can be ‘hallucinations’ within a dataset,” Sanders explains. “If you ask an AI-driven LLM such as Bard a question like, ‘What was the revenue generated by X business?” and it gives you an answer you don’t think is right, it will re-generate a different response. You have to make sure that, when an LLM does a calculation, it’s analyzing the right thing and using authentic data.” Again, it comes down to focused human oversight. 

AI and LLMs can also be useful for shaking up the thinking on a particular topic, sparking creativity and brainstorming. “If we have a client situation or an investment we’re considering, we might throw six or seven different prompts about a topic into one of the LLMs and just see what comes out,” Sanders explains. “That can be a catalyst for creative thought.” For example, if the team is thinking about an investment, an AI-driven tool can help. “If we’re looking at Mr. Carwash, we might ask the LLM to show us the entire landscape of car washes in the United States or the last six quarters of earnings of car washes in the American Southwest.” Such queries can help frame issues the team is considering, but it won’t be the deciding factor.

Why wealth management AI won’t replace a human touch

Artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere, it seems, from predictive text in our Google searches and chatbots in customer service to facial recognition when we check in for a flight at the airport. Even though those things and more have become commonplace, there are some areas of our lives where such technology isn’t compatible: namely, the expansive use of AI in wealth management. “Wealth management, specifically, our style of wealth management simply doesn't lend itself to leaning heavily on AI,” says Sanders. “Even with all the advantages and efficiencies AI can bring, when you look at our clients and what we do for them, it’s really about the integration of our complete service offering; specifically our five pillars of expertise [family office, investments, philanthropy, real estate, trust services]. The comprehensive service these areas of expertise bring allows us to provide the personalized and compassionate approach that makes us successful, unique, and powerful for our clients.” The use of AI in wealth management can be valuable in some instances, while simultaneously complementing human expertise and intelligence for even greater results. 

One of the primary ways Whittier Trust serves clients and sets itself apart from other firms is its highly personalized approach to serving the whole person or family. “An AI-driven solution does not exhibit empathy right now, it does not get to know someone’s hopes for family continuity or heart-felt goals for making a difference in a philanthropic endeavor. A computer doesn’t hold someone’s hand as they’re going through a difficult season,” Sanders says. “Those things require a lot of human touch because there's still a lot of emotional involvement when you're trying to come up with a customized, tailored solution for each very complex family.”

 

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Despite domestic and geopolitical uncertainty, equity portfolios performed quite well in 2023 as measured by the S&P 500 Index. The market return was largely driven by the seven largest constituents of the S&P 500, also known as the Magnificent Seven. The Magnificent Seven includes: Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, Meta Platforms, Nvidia, and Tesla. These companies account for over twenty-eight percent of the S&P 500 Index and collectively more than doubled in 2023.  The spectacular returns concentrated in a few names left the average stock returning less than half of the S&P 500 Index overall.  The Magnificent Seven masked the underlying share price weakness of most stocks in the S&P 500 Index.  The concentration of returns and weightings raises the question of whether the S&P 500 Index should be dissected for opportunities and imperfections.

S&P 500 Index

This leads us to our next point in which we discuss the construction of the S&P 500 Index and lessons to learn from the evolution of the index.  The S&P 500 Index is often referred to as a “passive index,” meaning there is not an active manager changing the constituents of the Index on a regular basis.  It may come as a surprise that in any given year there are several changes to the S&P 500 Index.  As companies are acquired, merged, or face challenging times, they must be replaced in the index so there remain exactly 500 companies.  Over the past decade a shocking 189 companies were added to the S&P 500 Index! 

Before we delve into the implications of the 189 additions to the “passive” S&P 500 Index, we should highlight that over 28% of the S&P 500 Index is now in just seven companies, aka the Magnificent Seven.  These seven companies are the largest because of their extraordinary performance over the past 15 years.  The magnificent seven returns (measured in multiples) since the market peak before the Great Financial Crisis (12/31/2007) through the most recent quarter (12/31/2023) are as follows:

  • Apple 32.1x
  • Google (Alphabet) 8.1x
  • Nvidia 63.4x
  • Amazon 32.8x
  • Tesla 156.3x (since IPO in 2010) (1.1x since S&P 500 Index inclusion in 2020)
  • Microsoft 14.5x
  • Meta 12.0x (since IPO in 2012) (6.5x since S&P 500 Index inclusion in 2013)

Usually, we talk about stocks and bonds in percentage terms reserving double digit multiples on investment for only the best Venture Capital hits.  In this case, writing about Apple stock’s 3,113% return (32.1x multiple) if purchased at one of the worst times in history (right before the financial crisis) through today seems absurd.  Thus, we can simply say that an investment in 2007 would today be worth 32.1x as much including dividends (equally absurd you say!).  This is a great reminder of how favorable investing in high quality companies can be over long periods of time.  (Imagine a game table in Las Vegas that gave you a greater than 50% chance of winning each day, a greater than 65% chance of winning over one year and a nearly 100% chance of winning over multiple decades.  You would want to play that game and only that game for as long as you possibly could.)  While the magnificent seven have all returned multiples of investment since 2007, the S&P 500 Index has also returned a handsome 4.5x (347%) return over that time frame. 

The 189 additions to the S&P 500 Index

Now back to the 189 companies that were added to the S&P 500 Index in the last decade. The 189 additions have been selected by a committee known as the S&P Dow Jones Indices Index Committee (within S&P Global).1  These additions have to be disclosed before they are added to the index.  Thus, the average of those 189 stocks saw a bump immediately before they were added to the S&P 500 Index.  On average, those 189 stocks returned 11% over the three month period prior to the announcement date.  As more and more investors allocate a portion of their portfolio to index funds, the newly added stocks see more and more demand for their shares ahead of being included in the index.  According to the Investment Company Institute, midway through 2023 there were over $6.3 trillion dollars invested in S&P 500 Index funds in the United States.  As a company is added to the S&P 500 Index there is significant buying power behind that addition.  

Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven stock price appreciation in 2023 reflects their strong fundamentals.  These seven companies generally have high margins, low input costs, strong balance sheets, and no unionized labor.  Conveniently avoiding the major pitfalls of 2023.  Perhaps more importantly, the strong performance from the top seven companies and the outsized weightings of those companies, obfuscates the weakness of the other 493 stocks that are on average still down from the beginning of 2022.  After two years of negative returns for the majority of the stocks in the index, perhaps there are some bargains out there for long-term investors.

Conclusion

We can draw a number of conclusions from the above analysis:  

  1. The S&P 500 Index returns over the next few years will be heavily dependent on the Magnificent Seven. Fortunately, the majority of the Magnificent Seven have low debt levels, high profit margins, low labor expense relative to revenue, and are cash generative (higher interest rates may boost earnings).  
  2. The imperfect index will continue to evolve and change despite the passive moniker.  
  3. Being attentive to potential index inclusions will be ever more important as the size of assets invested in the index grows faster than the index itself.
  4. 2023 market returns have been skewed by the Magnificent Seven leaving potential bargains beneath the surface.  
  5. Finally, investing in high quality companies may pose risks in the near term, but continues to look favorable over extended periods of time.

 

Endnotes:

      Source:  S&P Global
      Source:  Bloomberg Intelligence
      Source:  Investment Company Institute

Giving together can create a lasting bond.

“Philanthropy has the power to bring a family together,” says Pegine Grayson. “It can be life-changing, not just in its impact on a community, but also its impact on the donors.”

Invitation to Share

As Director of Whittier Trust's Philanthropic Services department, Grayson and her team help high-net-worth families meet their charitable goals, but the personal rewards for families are sometimes among the most meaningful outcomes.

Grayson recounts the time she helped plan a family retreat with the goal of getting three young adult children involved in the family foundation. While the two sons were enthusiastic, the daughter had been largely estranged from the family and only reluctantly agreed to attend.

“About an hour into the retreat, we asked the father to talk about why he wanted a foundation—what happened in his life that made him want to use his wealth in this way,” Grayson recalls. “He began talking about his reasons for joining the military decades ago, the experiences he had during his service that left a lasting impression on him, his own experiences as a veteran, and why he cares so deeply about helping fellow vets. As his story unfolded, he broke down and cried. The kids were stunned. They had never heard this story. After so many years, they finally had a key to begin to understand what their father was about.”

The father's vulnerability created a major shift in the room, Grayson says, which transitioned to asking each of them about their own lives and areas where they'd like to have an impact. Although no one's causes were the same, there were no wrong answers, and everyone was truly listening and hearing each other. “By the end, the kids realized that it's not always going to be the dad show; it can be the family show,” Grayson concludes. “And they've all been active in the family foundation since, including the daughter.”

The School of Philanthropy

Because the work of Philanthropy is steeped in personal values, it's an ideal vehicle for a family to talk about what has shaped them as individuals and what it means to them to align their wealth and values. Philanthropic pursuits open the door for a family to work together as a team on projects or initiatives that will benefit others outside of the family unit. Grayson discusses her top five:

1) Values and succession

As a parent, you don't want wealth to undermine your children's initiative and drive for success. You want them to be equipped with the tools and values they need for a good life. Philanthropy provides that foundation, prompting discussions of family members' backgrounds and beliefs and helping everyone embrace family history and carry forward important values.

2) Life skills 

Even once you have settled on a charitable mission, it can be surprisingly challenging to select grantees, develop a decision-making process, decide the type of impact you want to have and how to evaluate it, etc. Making these decisions as a family provides a rich learning environment, as members research the causes they care about and learn how to communicate respectfully, make persuasive arguments, appreciate other perspectives, and compromise. You also have to learn how to represent your family effectively in the community so that every encounter leaves people, grantees, organizations, and other philanthropists with a positive impression. 

3) Financial literacy

By tending to the business of the foundation, family members learn about investments, financial planning, budgeting, market fluctuations, and other financial management practices, including how to calculate the 5% required distribution for private foundations.

4) Resolving ambivalence 

It's not uncommon for family members to have a love-hate relationship with the family's wealth, particularly for those who didn't earn the money themselves. Sometimes, there are expectations of achievement; sometimes, politics and unconscious messages of distrust. But coming together to decide how to use the wealth for good can serve as a pressure relief valve for some of those issues and get family members rowing in the same direction as they focus on the positive impact they can have on issues they care about.

5) Togetherness

With families spread all over the country, or even the world, philanthropy can keep you united around a common purpose and provide an impetus to physically come together, visit grantees, see your work in the community, and then talk about what you've seen.

Strategy for Family Continuity

“One longtime Whittier client had a situation that demonstrated all five of these benefits,” Grayson says. 

The origin of the family's wealth went back many generations, and as the family branched out, they created a variety of foundations. By the fourth generation, everyone had their own separate interests, and they were no longer collaborating. 

“We saw a way to bring everyone back together,” Grayson explains. “For the fifth generation, we had the idea to create a junior board to start talking about seamless succession planning for the family foundations, identifying promising charities, and learning about making grants. So, we formed a group of cousins and started to educate them on the responsibilities of being a board member of a foundation and the legal and tax constraints in which they operate. We focused on fundamental activities such as researching grantees, making site visits, and budgeting. As the training sessions progressed, the cousins wanted to know more. Some of the questions that came up were, While we're talking about philanthropy, can we also talk about why my parents set up a trust, what it means, and what are the differences between stocks and bonds and other investments? They were hungry for knowledge.

“As the group started to learn together, they started respecting each other. That has led to even deeper relationships over time. They're all still very close and doing collaborative grant-making across branches of the family. Every other year, they have a ‘G5’ retreat in person, and they plan it themselves!” Grayson says. “Philanthropy created those relationships. That fifth generation got to know each other in a way that never would have happened without the common bond of using the family's wealth for good. It's the best feeling to be able to help facilitate that.”

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On November 9, the IRS released its annual inflation adjustments for tax year 2024 covering updates to more than 63 tax provisions. The 2024 adjustments will affect tax returns filed in 2025.

On December 31, 2025, a significant amount of the individual tax provisions passed under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”) will sunset, including: the TCJA’s lower tax rates, the 60% AGI threshold for cash gifts, the doubling of the Unified Gift and Estate Tax Credit, the elimination of the $10,000 state and local tax cap, the return of the 2% miscellaneous tax deduction, and more. Whittier Trust’s Tax Department can assist with modeling these upcoming changes.

2023 tax year filings are due in 2024; certain tax due dates fall on a weekend or holiday. A list of 2024 federal tax due dates can be found available for download in the attached PDF.

In 2022, the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth passed away at 96 years old, leaving behind four beloved dogs, Candy, Lissy, Sandy and Muick. The Queen, famous for being a dog lover, worried about the fate of her pets and planned ahead for her children and staff to adopt them after her death. Ultimately, it was a happy outcome for the royal pooches. 

Many of us can relate to pets feeling like full-fledged family members. In fact, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, in the United States, 85% of dog owners and 76% of cat owners consider their pets to be a member of the family. Those numbers are huge since, according to the American Pet Products Association, as of 2023, 66% of U.S. households have at least one pet. Still, the overwhelming majority of pet owners neglect to plan for their animals in their estate plans (Everplans reports that only 9% of people with wills include provisions for their cats, dogs, or exotic birds). 

More and more Whittier Trust clients have questions about how best to provide for their fur babies and feathered friends. Whittier Trust Senior Vice President and Director of Philanthropic Services Pegine Grayson sat down with Christine Chacon, a partner at Best Best & Krieger LLP. Chacon has extensive estate planning experience in the areas of trusts for individuals and pets, wills, powers of attorney and healthcare directives.

Pegine Grayson: Why do you believe it’s important for people of means to engage in advance planning for their pets?

Christine Chacon: Our pets are like family members. And despite their shorter life expectancy, it’s actually very common for pets to outlive their owners. Most of us can’t imagine a scenario in which our beloved animals are just dropped off at the nearest shelter with no idea how they would fare. Even if you have a family caregiver in mind, pets are expensive and most of us don’t expect others to have to shoulder the costs of caring for our pets into the future.

Pegine Grayson: That makes sense. What can we do to ensure the best outcome for our pets after we’re gone?

Christine Chacon: I usually begin by asking my clients whether or not they have a successor caregiver—a family member, friend or a neighbor—in mind. Their options will be different depending on how they answer.

Pegine Grayson: Then let’s take those one at a time. What are the options for people who do have a specific caregiver in mind for their pets?

Christine Chacon: First, make sure they know of your intention and agree to serve in this capacity. Consider naming a second person in case something happens to the first one or they become unable or unwilling to serve. The next step is to craft a letter with instructions to guide them (the pet’s medical history, medical conditions, vet contact, special dietary restrictions, habits, etc.). In short, these are tips for success. Finally, ensure your chosen caregiver will have enough resources to care for your pet in the way that you would want them to. This can be accomplished as a simple, outright bequest to the caregiver for this purpose or by arranging a pet trust. The best option depends on the pet owner’s assets, other chosen beneficiaries and circumstances.

Pegine Grayson: Let’s discuss the bequest first. That sounds easier than establishing a trust. Why not just opt for this solution?

Christine Chacon:  It’s a simpler option, but it may not provide sufficient protection under some circumstances. For example, what if your chosen caregiver falls ill or passes before your pet does? What if he or she turns out to be less financially responsible than you had assumed and squanders the money you leave them on a new car? I always advise my clients to hope for the best outcome but plan for the worst one.

Pegine Grayson: So it sounds like a trust structure would be safer, but is that possible for pets?

Christine Chacon: Absolutely! Many states have provisions in their Probate Codes for this type of structure. For example, in California, it is found in Section 15212. You’ll want to engage an attorney who is experienced in setting up these special trusts. Typically, people name the same personal or professional trustee that they have in place for their other trusts and specify that distributions can be made for all expenses reasonably necessary for the pet’s care. The trustee would be obligated to invest the funds prudently, so they may grow over time. The trust would stay in place even if the caregiver ends up changing over time.  Finally, you’ll need to decide what happens to any fund balance remaining upon the pet’s death. Most people designate a trusted animal shelter to receive the residue.  

Pegine Grayson: How does one determine the right amount of money to put into the trust?

Christine Chacon: I suggest you make a list of your typical monthly expenses (food, grooming, vet bills, walking, toys, medications, etc.) as well as the annual ones (dental cleanings, boarding for vacations, even plane tickets) and come up with an average annual amount. We can specify varying amounts to be transferred to the trust upon the owner’s death, depending on the age of the animal at the time of the owner’s death.

Pegine Grayson: OK, you’ve been talking about the situations where the pet owner has a specific caregiver in mind. What if they don’t have anyone willing or able to step in and take the pet?

Christine Chacon: In that case, most of my clients still opt to establish a trust with a professional trustee and name a trusted animal shelter or other appropriate nonprofit as the beneficiary. For dogs and cats, a local shelter is typical. For horses, they’ll need to find a ranch or stables willing to board them for the remainder of the animal’s life. It’s important to reach out to the organizational beneficiary in advance and get their consent to the arrangement. It would be tragic to make plans that you thought were iron-clad only to have the organization say that they’re not willing to take the animal in. The trust instrument will provide that if the pet is adopted, the organization may retain the funds as a charitable contribution.

Pegine Grayson: Can you share a story of a pet trust you established and how it worked out?

Christine Chacon: I counseled a Trustee through the administration of a pet trust which just ended a few years ago. The decedent left a large portion of her estate in trust for the benefit of her dog. Her dog was young when she died, so the trust lasted for the dog’s lifetime. A friend cared for the dog, and a professional licensed fiduciary managed the trust account. The dog was very well cared for, from grooming to boarding, supplies, food, equipment and anything else you can imagine. When the dog died of old age, the balance of the trust fund was given to a local pet organization. It was a lovely arrangement, because the dog’s life continued as her owner would have liked, and a charity was benefited as well. 

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The holidays are a time to be together: Here’s how to ensure family harmony

For many, the holidays are the only time of year when the entire family gets together. From January to October, family dynamics may be easily avoided, but November and December usher in the season of togetherness as well as expectation. Studies show that roughly half of all Americans have increased stress during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s timeframe as they anticipate the minefield of family interactions around planning, travel, food, and gift-giving, combined with conflicts over the most common topics of politics, religion, and money.  

“The strains of family dynamics can be exacerbated by wealth,” notes Whittier Trust Senior Vice President and Client Advisor Brian G. Bissell. “Shared family assets, vacation homes, gift expectations, sibling rivalry, and family business affairs all add complexity and can lead to lingering issues. Addressing these issues and working toward family harmony throughout the year is imperative if the goal is to have a drama-free holiday gathering.”

Bissell recommends a few top tips for holiday family harmony: 

  • Try to have regular family communication throughout the year, especially if you have shared assets or an operating family business. Allow the holidays to be a time where you just enjoy each other’s company rather than talk business. Create opportunities for all family members to express their opinions, concerns, and aggravations separate from holiday gatherings.
  • Respect each individual’s personal version of success and happiness. Everyone is on their own life path and will achieve different levels of financial success. The banker may obtain a higher salary than the artist, though the artist may live a more creative life. Envy and rivalries can only be resolved if both parties put in the work. Parents can help by making sure everyone’s accomplishments are celebrated. Being fair in the amount of praise given can be just as important as fairness in the distribution of financial gifts.
  • If alcohol is prevalent at your family gatherings, it’s extra important to set boundaries. Stress that family Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other celebrations are a time to enjoy each other, not a time for weighty topics. And prepare for intervention if necessary. Plan ahead for what you might need to say or do to defuse a conversation that is headed to the abyss. 
  • Model good behavior. Even in the trickiest family interactions, you should maintain your own high standards. Practice compassion, open-mindedness, understanding, and active listening.   

One of the advantages of family wealth is the opportunity for outside assistance in managing family dynamics. If financial issues are regularly fueling the discontent, families should consider hiring an experienced third-party wealth manager who specializes in working through family dynamics to help keep the peace and build trust with all stakeholders. 

“By engaging the services of wealth management offices that prioritize objectivity and open communication, families can navigate the complexities of wealth and financial matters, ensuring that the holiday season is truly a time to be together in harmony,” Bissell says. Through his work at Whittier Trust, he has seen firsthand the value of three key steps families can take:  

  1. Form a family office to include a non-family wealth management team of advisors. These independent, impartial advisors can manage family estate planning and wealth transfer and deliver sensitive family communications. An advisor also serves as a mediator or unbiased perspective to help resolve conflicts among family members and foster long-term family unity. 
  2. Build a strong foundation of family identity and shared values. Work together to articulate shared goals, philanthropic objectives, and a family mission statement. An advisor can help you establish guidelines for communication, compassion, and conflict resolution.
  3. Design a family governance plan that ensures everyone understands how decisions are made about family financial, legal, and personal matters. The structure of the plan might include agreed-upon principles, conditions, and methods of communication. The family office team of advisors will guide you in creating, implementing, and monitoring the plan.

“Family Thanksgiving and the holidays in general are an opportunity to express your thanks for all that family means to you and strengthen family bonds,” Bissell says. “Families are the most enduring relationships of your life, and it’s worth the investment of time and energy to create family harmony.” After all, what better holiday gift could you ask for?

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As the oldest Multifamily Office headquartered in the West, we bring decades of experience helping families transition their businesses to the next generation. Over the years, we’ve identified several commonalities among families that have successfully navigated a family business transition. The following three concepts we believe are essential:

1. Create a family office to organize your family outside of the business.

Generational transitions in a family business can affect morale, liquidity, and security within the family. A family office can be particularly effective in identifying and addressing these issues, especially when family members share interests in complex assets, such as real estate or business stock.
A family office also plays a critical role in creating privacy, community, shared purpose, and a safe meeting space for all family members. Designed around your family’s unique needs and objectives, your family office can provide education about your family’s financial situation, estate planning objectives, and family history. It can help you articulate values, roles, and responsibilities for the business and the family.

Some families set out to create their own single-family office by hiring attorneys, accountants, administrators, trust officers, real estate professionals, and philanthropic advisors. They will also lease out office space to house these professionals and host family meetings. Our clients find significant value in having efficient access to our many resources, benefiting from economies of scale. With over 550 client families with distinct needs and unique family office structures, we are able to deploy the lessons learned and shared knowledge to help families establish their own platform and make critical adjustments as the business and family evolve.

2. Establish a strong foundation.

For any family to work together and make decisions collectively, it is paramount that a clearly defined vision, mission, and purpose is articulated, integrating their core values and long-term objectives. There should be a mission statement for the family office incorporating each of these elements that is different from the mission statement for the family business. The ability to effectively communicate and resolve conflict is crucial to longevity and work may need to be done to strengthen this foundation.

3. Design a structure that allows the flexibility to adapt, evolve, grow, and protect the family.

Once you have formed a dynamic family office and created a strong foundation, your family is ready to construct an entity structure that allows for ownership and control to transition smoothly ensuring continued success in a tax efficient manner. If there is one constant we can count on, it is that tax laws will always change. The family office will help keep your family at the forefront of planning ahead for these changes. The entity structure should either benefit from being grandfathered into current laws or have the flexibility to adapt to unforeseen future tax law changes. We’ve seen the struggle created when an owner dies, and the family hasn’t planned for the succession or the estate tax liability. There are many options available today that will reduce estate and other tax burdens and prepare the family and the business for the emotional, financial, and related burdens associated with generational transitions.

Having a skilled advisory team that knows your family and understands big picture objectives can make all the difference.

 

Works of art can have significant value, both personally and as an asset

Fine art may not be one of the first categories that comes to mind when you consider diversifying your portfolio. But paintings, sculpture and other works of art can be a substantial asset in an estate while also bringing beauty and joy into your life.

Make a statement while making an investment

“Quality art is a dual investment,” says Elaine Adams, director of American Legacy Fine Arts who consults with Whittier Trust clients. “It has personal value because it gives you pleasure and because you’ll constantly be discovering something new in it. And if you’ve done your research—and particularly if you have something rare—the piece will also increase in value over time as an investment.”

But how do you shop wisely if you have no formal art education? “Approach it as an adventure,” Adams suggests. “Sometimes you don’t even know what your own interests are; you just see it and it hits you. Gallerists and museum staff love to educate and answer questions, so don’t be intimidated. The first piece you buy may not end up being among the most important, but it starts your collection, and one thing will lead to another. The detective work is the fun part, learning about individual artists while you learn the language. Take your time with it, and soon you’ll become an expert.”

Here are some of the initial steps that Adams and other art consultants recommend as you begin investing in fine art:

  • Read about different art styles, periods and movements. Go to galleries, exhibitions, museums and art auctions to understand the market. Get involved with local fine arts organizations. Learn about factors that can affect the value of art, such as historical significance, cultural and market trends, and the reputations of different artists. 
  • Set a realistic budget and remember to account for potential costs such as shipping, framing, lighting, installation, insurance and climate-controlled storage if needed. Art investment is typically a long-term commitment, so plan to keep your works for many years. 
  • Once you discover an artist whose work interests you, research their background, read about their inspirations and consider factors such as where their work has been exhibited and at what stage in their career each piece was created.
  • If you like what you learn about the artist, take the next step and ensure that their artwork is authentic and not an imitation of other works or simply an attempt to capitalize on a trend. Verify the piece's legitimacy through reputable authorities. 
  • Consider working with a trusted gallerist or hiring a qualified art consultant who can help you navigate the market and also help with aesthetic decisions, such as framing and placement in your home.
  • Diversify your collection, just as you would with stocks and bonds, by investing in different artists, styles and mediums. Consider both established artists and emerging new talent. There’s less risk with artists who have a record of strong auction or gallery sales and whose work has a proven appreciation in value. But you might see a bigger payoff in the long run, and perhaps have more fun, taking your chances on lesser-known works.
  • Prioritize quality and what speaks to your soul while keeping an eye on the development of artists’ careers and their evolving styles. Educate yourself about the art markets in your area of interest by following auctions, joining art investment forums and subscribing to respected art publications.

Make It Personal

You’re likely to find that many of the professional skills and investment acumen you already have will serve you well in navigating the art world. But be sure to balance market considerations with your personal goals: Do you want to become a collector of art from a certain region, specific era or of a particular style? Or would you prefer a more eclectic collection, buying items that catch your eye at different times or that fit into ideal spaces in your home? Are you looking for soothing pieces that invite contemplation or bold pieces that energize you, or both? 

Discussing and shopping for art with a loved one can become a lifelong passion, and each piece will reflect your interests over time. “Collecting as a couple opens a door to learning more about each other and yourselves,” says Adams. “Each year you’ll notice something new in the art because you’ve changed and you’re seeing yourself differently.” 

From a long-term perspective, your collection and the stories of how you discovered and selected each piece can be passed on to family members who will cherish the works that remind them of you and your home. 

So enjoy the journey, the stories you’ll gain along the way, and the lasting satisfaction of discovering and owning pieces that speak to you.

From Investments to Family Office to Trustee Services and more, we are your single-source solution.

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A Journey from Internship to Full-Time Excellence

At Whittier Trust, our clients are the core of all we do. We're dedicated to delivering a tailored wealth management experience that prioritizes our clients' families, estates, and legacies. To achieve this, we assemble exceptional teams around our clients, comprising top-tier professionals and talent cultivated through our robust internship program. Many of our interns become full-time employees, ensuring our team's expertise is deeply rooted in our values. For these individuals, working at Whittier Trust isn't just a job; it's a dynamic journey of learning, mentorship, and growth. We spoke with seven former interns, now full-time team members, to explore the Whittier Trust experience from their perspective.

The Internship Experience

"I think what really stood out to me throughout my first internship with Whittier was just the willingness for each employee to actually take the time and meet with you,” says Taylor Hughes, a former intern and now Officer and Client Advisor at Whittier Trust. “Not only did I get one-on-one time with top-level people, I was included in a lot of conversations and given projects that were actually interesting and not just busy work.”

Matthew Mackel, a former intern, now Investment Analyst with Whittier Trust adds, "I was really amazed by the people and the culture and really the growth mindset of the culture. You can go and talk to anybody, even someone who is at the highest level of the company, and often they'd come and talk to me first.”

These personal connections don’t stop once interns leave Whittier Trust as William Dodds, a former intern and now Client Advisor, notes, "My mentors really cared about me as a person and about my development... it wasn't a transactional relationship. It wasn't, 'Your internship is done, you're back to college, and hopefully you learned something.'”

Katie Muzzin, a former intern turned Officer and Investment Analyst, further highlights the emphasis on mentorship and personal development at Whittier Trust. "Everyone at the firm, especially the investment team, has taken the time to not only teach me and answer my questions, but they've also tailored my projects to areas where I was most interested in and wanted to develop my skills."

However, an internship at Whittier Trust isn't just about technical skills. Derek Galvan discovered the importance of EQ (emotional intelligence) during his internship. He explains that "what really makes a difference in business development and client relationships is being personable and learning that side of the business… as we value relationships with clients at the level we do here, it’s probably the most necessary skill."

Transitioning to Full-Time Employees

Danny Schenker, a Vice President and Client Advisor in the Reno Office, cites these client relationships as a major reason why he returned to Whittier Trust. “No two days are the same. We're a family office and with the family office, we offer our clients a lot of concierge services.”

Katie Muzzin points out that the internship experience at Whittier Trust showcased that the firm doesn't just overdeliver, but genuinely cares about its clients. Matthew Mackel concurs, “We have really close connections with our clients. You know, we're in their life. We're not just sending out a report saying ‘Here's how you're doing it for this year. See you next year.’ We learn how to approach things holistically and that necessitates a strong relationship.”

Muzzin expands on the firm's client-centric philosophy, noting that, "We measure success across generations rather than in years." This long-term, client-focused approach guides employees at Whittier Trust, ensuring that they continue to prioritize their clients over anything else.

Danny Schenker also notes the satisfaction he feels from solving unorthodox problems for his clients. "I feel like at Whittier, I'm challenged to come up with unique solutions to complex situations, and with each challenge that I work on and get to solve, I feel like I get to add another tool to my toolbox."

The journey from intern to full-time employee at Whittier Trust is marked by continuous learning and personal development. The trust that interns receive during their internship carries over as they step into more significant roles. Katie Muzzin highlights that the transition comes with ongoing support: "Whittier and my team have continued to support me in furthering my education and ensuring that I have the time and resources necessary to succeed."

Katie Muzzin also valued the trust she received immediately from her team: "They have always treated me as an equal part of the team since day one and have shown that they value my opinion throughout my time here." After starting as a full-time member at Whittier Trust, Katie was quickly asked to take on key roles in important projects, such as the due diligence of private asset managers and managing alternative asset funds.

Matthew Mackell adds, "It's where the culture of the firm comes from, everyone wanting to promote each other and help each other.”

This culture extends beyond client work. "Whittier is also really supportive of the nonprofit community which is something that I hold close to my heart. I'm on the Young Professionals Committee of Big Brothers, Big Sisters in Northern Nevada and also serve as the President of the Planned Giving Round Table of Northern Nevada,” says Danny Schenker. He notes that not only does his office give employees the full support they need to pursue philanthropic work important to them, but also organizes opportunities for all employees to volunteer.

What advice would you give to interns now?

Whittier Trust interns come from diverse backgrounds, but they all share a common trait: curiosity and passion. As Derek Galvan highlights, "A lot of people have those technical skills. But coming in, you really have to accept that you're not going to know a lot and you're going to have to ask a lot of questions, a lot of the right questions."

Reflecting back to his first few months at Whittier Trust, William Dodds notes, "Coming in with an open mind and accepting that you're not going to know everything and just learning from the people with experience... That's really what helped me grow within this company."

"I think the thing that could be the most helpful is just stay curious,” agrees Taylor Hughes. “Make sure that you continue to ask questions and demonstrate that you care deeply about the work that you're doing.”

William Dodds adds, "Asking ‘why’, is something that I learned over the course of my internship... all of those people that ended up in senior roles have spent their career asking ‘why’."

Matthew Mackel says, "One of the interesting things about the people here is that there's no ego. And, so I'd say take full advantage, and talk with your superiors and learn as much as you can and show a passion. I think one of the things about Whittier Trust employees is that they're passionate, and they care about their work. So I think if you're someone who is looking to go  full time, that's kind of how you want to approach work."

At Whittier Trust, we understand that the well-being of our clients’ estates is only as strong as the team behind it. Whittier Trust's internship program provides an exceptional foundation for young professionals to develop their skills and gain insights into wealth management. As evidenced by the number of interns who are now full-time employees at Whittier Trust, they carry with them a wealth of experience, mentorship, and a profound commitment to client satisfaction. The journey from internship to full-time employment at Whittier Trust is not only a testament to the firm's dedication to personal development but also a demonstration of the potential for individual growth within a thriving company.

From Investments to Family Office to Trustee Services and more, we are your single-source solution.

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