William J. Benz, Attorney at Law
Probate, Estates, Business and Real Estate
Of Counsel to Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell, LLP
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Could you craft a sound estate plan with $216 billion to work with?

| Oct 1, 2020 | Wills |

 

Pennsylvania estate planners might understandably do a double take when hearing a noted financial expert say, “Don’t end up like the Vanderbilts.”

After all, that family is linked perhaps more than any other with astronomical wealth. Reportedly, railroad and shipping czar Cornelius Vanderbilt amassed well more than $200 billion (in today’s dollars) during his lifetime. Financial writer Wes Moss duly notes that Vanderbilt family wealth comprises “the largest estate America has even known.”

A caveat necessarily accompanies any reference to that spotlighted wealth these days, though. And it underscores the need to stress the past-tense nature of the Vanderbilts’ assets.

Because they’ve largely disappeared over time.

That sheer dissipation of money might seem nearly incomprehensible for most planners who have never dominated entire industries. Moss makes the notable point, though, that what derailed the Vanderbilt fortune is not unlike the challenges that thwart estate expectations for families commanding far more modest holdings.

Like abject planning failures when taking a proactive and forward-thinking strategy is imperative. Like “squabbling between family members” who don’t adequately communicate or trust each other. Like heirs who never benefited from the imparted wisdom of a planner/wealth creator. Like appointed successors who were never properly trained to understand business and manage complex investments.

Moss states that heirs sometimes “have no idea where the money should go and what purpose it should serve.”

That state of affairs is of course often fatal to any prospect of enduring estate viability.

Yet it is far from inevitable. A planner who timely involves heirs in the planning process – through candid counsel, relevant training and so forth – can help ensure that a family’s wealth is maintained and legacy perpetuated in the future.

An experienced and empathetic estate planning legal team can fundamentally help with the process.