When Is $5 Million Not Enough Personal Wealth?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Apparently, the term “millionaire” translates to “mere steps from dire poverty” for some living in the nation's upper economic echelons.

UBS recently surveyed 2,215 investors with more than $1 million in net worth and found that while those folks feel fortunate, they feel as if they have to keep amassing more wealth just to preserve their family's lifestyle. That makes them ambitious, but it also makes them feel as if they'll never have enough wealth to stop working and building onto that wealth. UBS found 77% of millionaires grew up middle class or below, with 61% aspiring to become millionaires and 65% feeling that $1 million was an important milestone. A full 74% of millionaires surveyed feel like they have “made it,” and the vast majority, 85%, attribute their success to hard work.

But 58% percent of millionaires report feeling increased expectations for their standard of living over the past 10 years. That's causing them no small amount of stress, as 52% feel like they are stuck on a treadmill, unable to get off without sacrificing their family's lifestyle.

“Some people feel incredibly rich when they've hit $2 million or $3 million and some people feel incredibly poor when they've hit $20 million,” says Cay Taylor, director specializing in trusts and estates at Citrin Cooperman. “It's their perspective and what it is they're trying to accomplish and, in today's estate tax regime, planning for the next generation when someone is married and has under $10 million is much different.”

It doesn't help when millionaires still fear they could lose it all with one wrong move. Roughly half of those with $1 million to $5 million are afraid one major setback, such as unemployment or a market crash, would have a significant impact on their lifestyle. Even a third of those with $5 million or more think it can all go away in a flash. That's especially true for millionaire parents working full-time, 63% of whom feel they can still be clobbered by one major setback.

“While it's natural to be uncomfortable at the thought of losing the wealth you have accumulated, the risk of major losses is not hard to mitigate,” says Paul Jacobs, certified financial planner and chief investment officer for Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Atlanta. ”People who lose all their wealth usually do so by either making bad investments or having runaway spending, or a combination of the two. While all investments have risk, the total level of risk in your portfolio can be managed by allocating a portion of your wealth into conservative investments, such as bonds or cash.”

It isn't that millionaires aren't satisfied with the lives they have. Roughly 73% of those with $1 million to $2 million reported being “highly satisfied” with their life compared with 78% of those with $2 million to $5 million and 85% of those with $5 million or more. While 37% of those with $1 million to $5 million say their wealth allows them to live a fairly luxurious lifestyle, 62% of those with $5 million or more are positive of it. Still, that doesn't take away their fears of market fluctuations, poor investment or human error.

Jacobs notes that the easiest way to stay out of trouble is to avoid highly speculative investments, such as those with no track record or have zero transparency should be avoided altogether. From there, spending is easier to control than investing, especially if most of your spending is discretionary and not for basic needs such as food or housing. If people are still not feeling they're on stable footing, Jacobs and Taylor note that they should likely speak with an advisor. Taylor has sat down with young entrepreneurs who are just starting to amass wealth and asked them what their plan is, only to find out they don't have one. They still name their parents as beneficiaries on their wills years after marrying and having kids, but will tell Taylor that their top priority for their estate plan is looking out for their children.

”Every case is so individual and, by listening to them — what their concerns and fears are and what stage of the entrepreneurial journey they're in — that's how we start coming up with ways to help them formulate a plan,” Taylor says. “The worst thing I could do is tell someone what they need to do, and the best thing I could do is help them come to an understanding of what they want to do.”

For some, that means trying to provide the best for their children without spoiling them. More than two-thirds (67%) of millionaire parents tell UBS they already feel that their children take things for granted. More than half (53%) are at least somewhat worried that their children act entitled. They feel their children do not understand the value of money (65%), lack motivation (54%), harbor unrealistic expectations (54%) and fear they will embark on an unstable career path (50%).

Jacobs says that while it's natural to want your children to have the best childhood you can give them, it's also important to think about the impact your spending has on them and how it will affect their attitude toward money as they get older. Usually, he says, if your parents were good savers and were conservative with their spending, it's likely that you follow the same steps they did with their money. The same should hold true for your children.

“We encourage parents to not only be careful about the unspoken messages they pass along to their kids about money, but to go a step further and have conversations with their kids about the value of money and philanthropy while they're still young,” Jones says. “By the time children reach the age of majority, their attitude toward money can be much harder to change than when they were younger.”

Sometime, millionaire parents can instill those values by allowing their children to be co-trustees of a trust that distributes wealth to them direction. In other cases, however, children can be put in charge of a trust that distributes family wealth to a family foundation or to charitable organizations directly. This allows them to see firsthand how valuable a resource money can be and the value philanthropy can bring to family wealth and legacy.

There are parents and grandparents who take a stricter stance. For entrepreneurial millionaires, the money they'll one day leave to children may be tied up in buying new buildings and factories. They won't put it in a trust, but they can structure investments in such a way that they'll still grow for heirs while not falling under the estate and being subjected to estate tax. Taylor notes that some grandparents are putting spendthrift provisions into their grandchildren's trusts that enable a trustee to withhold money if that grandchild is sued or falls into other trouble. They're also inserting stipulations that dole out money only if children go to college and get jobs, but cut them off if they have trouble with substance abuse.

“There are people who want control over the kids and appointing trustees so that, if their kids are doing nothing, they're not getting any money,” Taylor says. “Get out there, get a job and become a productive member of society and then we'll talk about you getting the wealth.”

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