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Wealth in Families Paperback – June 30, 2006
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Wealth in Families, a book by Charles W. Collier, Harvard’s former senior philanthropic advisor, addresses many of the questions of concern to families of wealth, including ways to teach values to your family through philanthropy. In this book, he writes about the role philanthropy can play in helping families to convey both assets and values from generation to generation.
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Of particular interest is the fact that the author deals directly with the responsibilities of controlling a lot of money. Responsibility to oneself, family and society as a whole. The author discusses situations involving assets of around 12 million or greater but the concepts and lessons embedded in this book apply to any family that is financially comfortable, even those rather modestly so.
There are values, morals and ethics embedded in this book that make us think about money in different ways and, as such, the book is a great success.
If you want some benchmarks, the lowest net worth he deals with at one point is $15-30 million where he advocates giving your children $1-2 million (although also suggesting that some families lean towards $3-5 million) If you have greater net worth, he advocates a higher number ($10-15 million per child if your net worth is over $100 million) - but there is no real justification for any of the numbers - nor any suggestions for people with lower net worth.
However, even if you do have significant wealth to pass on to your heirs (and society), this book is probably not the right starting point. Mr. Collier does not have much of his own thought to share as much of the book consists of long quotes from others and interviews with a variety of other authors and experts. It all comes off a bit disjointed, with many ideas not fully developed.
An example: midway through the second chapter, Mr. Collier redefines wealth into four different categories: human, intellectual, social, and financial (the latter is what people typically think of when the word "wealth" is used. Expanding on these could be a major theme of the book but instead, after this brief mention, Mr. Collier drops the topic until chapter 5 (where he erroneously references chapter 1 as the place where he introduced the topic). In chapter 5 his expanded definitions he seems to conflate the definitions of human capital and intellectual capital.
While throughout the remainder of the book he touches on the themes raised by these four different "wealths," there is no organizing principle behind the structure. The reader must provide the links so that when the author is discussing family meetings, you know he's referring to "intellectual capital." Why, you ask? Because the definition of intellectual capital includes communication and conflict resolution - not an obvious connection with that term.
For all families, his suggestions about the importance of telling and re-telling "family stories" resonated with me. This is an important way to pass on shared values to the next generation, It helps define what is important to your family. I will be looking for more stories to share with my family at our next reunion.
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He is in a discussion group with a dozen other men.
This was the basis of their discussion one session.