Values Harder to Pass Down than Money

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Ellen Perry, an expert who helps families deal with issues of wealth and values, talks to Jennifer Ludden about the challenges faced by wealthy families who pass their money from one generation to the next.


Plenty of children and grandchildren do inherit lots of money, and their parents worry about how to pass on old-fashioned values with that wealth.


Well, it turns out there's a growing industry of experts to help them. People like Ellen Perry. She's the founder of Wealthbridge Partners.

Ms. ELLEN PERRY (Wealthbridge Partners, LLC): Wealthy parents are very worried about the negative impact of their financial success on their children.

LUDDEN: And there actually is evidence that children of the wealthy do have more problems.

Ms. PERRY: Well, they certainly don't have less problems. I would say I've seen the same kind of problems that you see in other parts of our society. There is a research piece that says that the same percentage of children of the affluent get into trouble with drugs and alcohol in school and discipline issues as the lowest income segment of our society: 20 percent. So 20 percent of the wealthiest and 20 percent of the poorest kids in our society get into trouble.

LUDDEN: And parent absenteeism is part of the factor here?

Ms. PERRY: The wealthiest families, where the parents have the ability to choose to do anything they want on a given Tuesday night rather than math homework with their kids, that sends a very powerful message to those children, about, I don't choose to be with you. I can have dinner with so and so.

Absenteeism in parents of the wealthy is more detrimental than absenteeism in lower income families where the parents may be working two jobs to take care of the family, that in fact the children process those two factors very differently.

LUDDEN: Can you tell me about some specific conversations you've had with parents when you're trying to explain to them how to let their children struggle?

Ms. PERRY: Letting your children struggle is perhaps one of the hardest lessons for a parent, whether you are wealthy or not. And so we have advised our clients from everything from letting your child have that speeding ticket, not picking up the phone and calling the chief of police whom you happen to know so well, to not helping your child get into that college that they're really not capable of staying in because you happen to have ways of making that happen.

If you don't earn things on your own, you know it in your heart.

LUDDEN: So people that may be the envy of those who know them are actually struggling with self-confidence, in a way?

Ms. PERRY: Very frequently. In second, third and fourth generation of wealthy families they often live in the shadow of a tremendous human being who's made this terrific wealth and has likely made lots of sacrifices to get there. And so self-esteem and a sense of their own self worth is a tremendous challenge for following generations to that person.

LUDDEN: Ellen Perry is the founder of Wealthbridge Partners. Thank you so much.

Ms. PERRY: Thank you.

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