Managing Wealth across Generations

The Baby Boomers, our biggest generation, have had an impact on almost every aspect of American society and financial planning has been no exception. While many of them are better educated than previous generations, when it comes to financial matters, differences between the family members can become apparent and potentially problematic.

Boomers can be more financially sophisticated than their parents. They’ve generally been exposed to more and have a greater appetite for financial risk. This is a generation that grew up being very independent but now faces unprecedented financial pressure. Longer life spans, taking care of their parents, putting their children through college and being able to finance their own retirement can squeeze the healthiest of income streams. Boomers need help managing these often conflicting and unprecedented financial demands. They are also typically underinsured while being long on mortality and short on savings.

Conversely, their parents and grandparents liked to keep things safe and simple, creating a consumption-vs.-saving dynamic. Wealth preservation and risk aversion came naturally to a group that survived World War II. The previous generation often is less financially knowledgeable and more fearful. They did not have a 401(K) or planning tools. They didn’t have the internet and tons of data. Older-generation members understandably want to remain financially independent but a questionable Social Security system can be worrisome. Combine this with generational views on money and there likely is a basis for a lively money discussion. The following scorecard should help you understand the players of most inter-generational money contests:

  1. Boomers want it all. Seniors want what’s theirs and will sacrifice to get it. Topics like credit, borrowing and debt vs. saving are hot-button issues.
  2. Boomers also are often members of the “Sandwich Generation.” They care for themselves as well as older and younger generation members. Seniors expect the world to “come to them.”
  3. Boomers like to use some of their money to help make the world a better place. Seniors like to “keep it at home,” yet most have done little estate planning.
  4. Boomers tend to have complicated financial lives. The older generation is relatively simple and straight forward, i.e., low divorce rate, no mortgage or serious debt.
  5. Like jobs, boomers can have 3-4 financial advisors over their lives. Older generation folks tend to stay with the same one or do not use one at all. Boomers are very concerned that they will outlive their money, forcing them to scale back their current lifestyle.

Planning for a confident financial future may prove more challenging than many imagined, especially when it comes to cementing financial relationships. Financially conflicted families should seek the help of an independent financial adviser. An impartial professional can create a plan as they help sort things out. It’s a tall order but all they ever wanted were peace, love and a lifetime income stream.