) -- For many parents, teaching their kids about money is as simple as offering an allowance, filling a pickle jar with pennies or helping them sign up for their first savings account.
But for children in high-wealth families, who will someday inherit their parents' business or money, preparing for the future is a much different, and vital, process.
Joline Godfrey caters to this expanding demographic with programs through her company, Independent Means Inc.
Originally trained as a social worker, Godfrey was hired by
to work with its employees and their families. In 1992, her life took a turn when she wrote a magazine article about women business owners. The experience was eye-opening.
"Had any of the women I interviewed had financial education, their businesses would have been different," she says. "They would have probably been larger, for one thing."
In response, she started a business that specializes in financial education for kids.
"Girls were being passed over because we expect too little of them in terms of financial responsibility," she says. "On the other hand, we assume too much about boys. So what was happening is the girls were growing up without being encouraged to become financially intelligent and boys were growing up too embarrassed to ask questions because, of course, they were guys and they were just somehow supposed to know these things. Meanwhile, the world is getting more financially complex, and neither girls nor boys had any serious preparation."
Godfrey says it's a challenge to convince parents that financial literacy is as important as, say, piano lessons.
In addition to launching programs at private schools, Independent Means offers personalized programs, special events, seminars and summer camps. The annual Summer$tock, for example, teaches kids how to select stocks, manage risk and build a balanced portfolio. Since its inception, the company has worked with 100,000 children and teens. Godfrey is also the author of several books, including
Raising Financially Fit Kids
(Ten Speed Press, 2003).
Just how much money is out there waiting for children to inherit?
In 1990, a Cornell University study estimated that $10.4 trillion would be bequeathed by the end of that decade. Baby Boomers may have drooled even more when subsequent studies upped the wealth-transfer prediction to as high as $136 trillion. Even lowball estimates as recent as 2003 called for a distribution of $41 trillion.
For most potential inheritors, those staggering figures will prove overly optimistic given the recent savings losses, longer life spans and increasing medical costs of their parents. But while average folks may not get more than a few thousand dollars as an inheritance, children of wealthy families still stand to do well.
One indicator can be gleaned from the IRS's estate tax, a levy that requires a filing for estates with combined gross assets over $2 million (a figure that was raised to $3.5 million for 2009). For 2007, the most recent year statistics are available, the gross value of taxed estates hovered just below $2 trillion. Subtract about 45% for the tax man and most of the rest likely went to heirs and charities.
The need to prepare wealthy kids for the future was illustrated in a recent survey of affluent families with liquid assets of at least $1 million by
, the wealth management arm of
Bank of America
. It found that only 20% believed their children would "keep their family's wealth secure for future generations."
"Kids who are growing up now are very likely to live well beyond 100, and maintaining sustainable finances and a sustainable lifestyle is pretty serious," Godfrey says. "What does that mean, given the issues they are going to face over the course of their lives, which will probably be longer and more challenging than at any point in history?"
The recession has underscored the importance of financial education and provided a valuable learning opportunity.
"It is a great teachable moment," Godfrey says. "It gives parents both the authority and the opportunity to say to their kids, 'Look, things are tough for everybody.' "
A sagging economy also has created an opportunity for parents "to reboot," she says.
"During the kind of go-go, anything is possible, 'yes, darling, do anything you want' days, parents would say: 'Our kids know that we can afford anything, so when we say 'no,' we don't even know how to talk about that with them,' " she says. "Now, families are kind of shifting and saying we are going to think about what is really important. We are going to think about what this means for our family. It created a kind of urgency."
-- Reported by Joe Mont in Boston.
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