Build Your Family Bank by Emily Griffiths-Hamilton

Emily Griffiths-Hamilton’s new book is a road map for people with family fortunes to protect their assets for future generations.

Most people fortunate to grow up as privileged as Emily Griffiths-Hamilton was might shun expressions such as "trust fund baby." But Griffiths-Hamilton, daughter of the late media and sports mogul Frank Griffiths, doesn’t shy away from such terms.

Instead, she uses them to describe what she did not become and to caution readers about the fragility of family fortune. Although she grew up jetting to the family’s yacht in the Mediterranean, she worked hard to forge a career as an accountant and tried to do the right things with her inheritance, even if all didn’t go according to plan.

In Build Your Family Bank, a road map to help people of means protect their assets for future generations, Griffiths-Hamilton enlivens professional advice with personal history. Instead of fostering a sense of entitlement, she says, family wealth should be used to nurture hardworking and financially savvy heirs who will find fulfilling work that will help them build, rather than fritter away, the family nest egg.

She cites the startling statistic that 70% of succession plans fail to achieve the desired result. The author’s prescription to avoid this outcome includes paying attention to human and intellectual assets, not just financial ones. She encourages families to have honest discussions about money, build trust and work toward a shared vision. Thinking as a unit, involving all stakeholders and having a plan will go a long way toward preserving wealth for future generations.

Griffiths-Hamilton makes a strong argument against relying solely on complicated trust arrangements, tax-deferral schemes and other ways of trying to control a fortune "from the grave." "The family bank approach turns this control model upside down," she writes. "[I]t focuses specifically on preparing the next generation to competently control their own lives."

She also challenges the gospel that assets should be divided equally among children. "Fair does not mean equal," she says. For instance, a sibling accepted at an Ivy League school might need more financial help than one attending a community college to pursue a trade.

Money in the family bank should be used for furthering the development of the heirs, not doled out for frivolous expenditures. Nothing wrong with Gucci loafers, she writes, but they should be purchased with money earned.

Griffiths-Hamilton is a credible source on such matters. In 1997, three years after her father died, a magazine ran a story suggesting that he had left no succession plan. In fact, he did have a plan in place, based on advice he was given at the time. "No family should have to see their name headlined in the national media the way ours was," she writes. But she now knows how people can go about optimizing the planning process.