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Creative Inheritance with Jeanne McMains

3 Questions for Designing a Creative Inheritance

Can you imagine giving your child a powerful Harley Davidson motorcycle without ever teaching them how to ride a bike? Most parents would never consider such a reckless gift. But gift planning attorney, Jeanne McMains, says this is a perfect metaphor for what she has seen many moms, dads, and grandparents do with their family inheritance.

As Vice-President of Gift Planning Solutions at the National Christian Foundation (NCF), and a gift planner specializing in wealth transfer for some of America’s most well-to-do families for over 30 years, Jeanne has seen her share of families who were headed down a dangerous path with their heirs. But Jeanne says it doesn’t have to be that way. By asking a few key questions, families can prepare for a creative inheritance that empowers children to avoid common dangers and thrive with purpose.

1. What is the role of wealth in our lives?

It may seem like a daunting question, but the “why” of wealth permeates all of the complexities of tax decisions and estate plans. Most conventional plans are based on the assumption that the goal is to accumulate all the wealth you can and push it all down to your kids. But do you dream of something more for your family legacy?

“Think how energizing it would be to consider what God is calling your family to share with the world.”

Jeanne has observed that parents who pause and pray about why God has blessed them with the resources they have are better prepared to create a plan that invites their children into something bigger.

2. What do I hope the inheritance is going to do in my child’s life?

Jeanne says, “We tend to think that wealth is either the hero of our kids’ life story or it’s going to be the villain. I say wealth is just fuel in the engine.” So, what will money fuel in your child’s life? Of course, the answer to that question will be unique for each child, so the plan for their inheritance might need to be as well. “When you take the uniqueness principle into consideration, you can think about what experiences, tools, and training does each child need to encourage their life journey? Then you can consider how much is enough and how do you structure that in a way that’s loving and purposeful for each child.”

“We tend to think that wealth is either the hero or the villain of our kids’ life story. Wealth is just fuel in the engine.”

3. How should I use my wealth to spend, shape, and share?

Jeanne encourages families to think in terms of three types of inheritances. The first involves allocation for tools, training, opportunities, possessions, and experiences that help children be productive and content. Another is providing for positive life-shaping experiences that empower them to develop good values and characteristics. And then, there is the inheritance to share. Jeanne says, “Most families in America have much more wealth than they need for the shaping and the spending necessary to positively nurture their children. Think how energizing it would be to consider what God is calling your family to share with the world.” Each of these types of inheritances can be translated into legal documents such as trust shares that are going to provide for kids, dynasty trusts that are more aimed at life-shaping, and even philanthropic tools like family foundations and donor-advised funds.

Hard questions, rewarding answers

Overall, Jeanne’s word of advice is don’t short-change the process: “Try not to think of estate planning as a one-and-done exercise where you get some documents and put them on a shelf. Wealth is a gateway to a deeper conversation so your family can grow in areas that really matter.“

“Wealth is a gateway to a deeper conversation so your family can grow in areas that really matter.”

“When you teach your kids how to ride a bike, it takes many hours and a lot of falling down and picking them up again. In the same way, estate planning is a process and it can be a powerful catalyst for important conversations and growth. Planning a creative inheritance is a journey and it can one of your family’s most rewarding experiences.”


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