Baby Boomers Have Financial Superpowers

They are passing $30 trillion down to their children and grandchildren, and this means they have the power to shape the next generation's financial futures. Here's how to use that power for their own good.

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Albert Einstein is credited with saying that compound interest is “the most powerful force in the universe.” I would add that education, combined with the miracle of compounding, may be the real power we are seeking. Who can have this superpower? Baby Boomers.

Baby Boomers are in the midst of making the largest transfer of wealth that this nation has ever experienced. It’s estimated that the transfer of wealth to our offspring could be as high as $30 trillion.

I’m not hung-up on the exact amount; I’m fascinated about its significance and what this means to Boomers and their children and grandchildren. The huge numbers make us think that this is about money. I want you to consider that your legacy is not only about money, it’s about more than money. Isn’t the gift you want to pass on to the next generation, resulting from your hard work, really about who you are … about your values?

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Let the Force Be with You

Let’s first talk about the money part of this equation and how you can act on Einstein’s words and make the miracle of compounding work for your loved ones. Your grandchildren have time on their side. Do the simple math. If you have a 1-year-old grandchild and you invest $50,000 for that child and earn simple yearly compounded interest at 6%, when that child is 65, they’ll have over $2 million. Now raise the interest rate to 8% and the number jumps to over $6.8 million. I know we are not considering inflation, but the point is that today’s investing allows Einstein’s theory to take real shape.

The other real part of the miracle involves your connection with your grandchildren. Your legacy is about the values and life skills you want to pass on to your grandkids. They actually want to hang out with you. They think you are cool. Take advantage of them wanting to listen to you.

Of course, you may be worried that your kids or grandkids will take their inheritance and indulge in sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll and may try to perfect the recipe for the next original designer martini. You lower the risk of that by really talking about and showing your offspring what money can and can’t do. You don’t want them to ever confuse net worth with self-worth. Talk about the responsibility that goes along with your money. It didn’t just happen … you earned it.

Show Them What’s Important to You

Get them involved in the charities and philanthropic activities near and dear to you. Tell them what you think is important … is it education, the arts, travel, religion, helping others? Show them. If your passion is building homes with Habitat for Humanity, take them along domestically or internationally to help build a home.

I’ve traveled with my kids for years to all sorts of places, from Borneo to Papua New Guinea to Madagascar. Every trip includes a charitable element, which is either prearranged or set up via our guide. We have planted trees, read to homeless children and donated clothes and food to local charities, even helped to count penguins in Antarctica, among other things.

I allowed my kids to be empowered to make a difference, and the added benefit was that these experiences reduced the times I had to say, “You don’t know how lucky you are.” This all, hopefully, may reduce the risk of your offspring leaving your funeral and stopping off at the Ferrari dealership on the way home.

Share Where Your Wealth Came From

Also, really talk to your grandchildren about how you earned your money. So many Boomers are still actively working. Take them to your office or explain what you do or did. Tell them the stories about the “good old days.” Show them the products you manufactured or services you provided. This education connects them with the reality of how the money came to be.

In subsequent columns I will address your intentions around the inheritance, meetings with financial advisers, conversations with family members and the emotional issues around money. I feel strongly that you must make sure that all family members understand your wishes prior to the wealth transfer.

By the way, the most expensive way to give away wealth is to die with it. You can’t take it with you. David Rockefeller, former chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, summed it up for me really well. It was 2004 and I was hitting him up for a jacket quote for my recent book (which he supplied). We were talking about passing wealth onto the next generation and David said, “You’ll never see a hearse with a luggage rack.”


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Neale Godfrey, Financial Literacy Expert
President & CEO, Children's Financial Network Inc.

Neale Godfrey is a New York Times #1 best-selling author of 27 books, which empower families (and their kids and grandkids) to take charge of their financial lives. Godfrey started her journey with The Chase Manhattan Bank, joining as one of the first female executives, and later became president of The First Women's Bank and founder of The First Children's Bank. Neale pioneered the topic of "kids and money," which took off after her 13 appearances on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."