JAMIE: This is the Purposeful Planning Podcast and I am your host for today, Dr. Jamie Trager-Muney, and I am absolutely thrilled to be here with my friend and my colleague, Coventry Edwards-Pitt, to discuss his latest book in the series. And your latest book is entitled Engaged Healthy, Wealthy & Wise: Lessons from Inheritors and Their Significant Others. Have you could you just take a minute to introduce yourself?
COVENTRY: Sure. Well. Can I say how excited I am to be here with you, Jamie? Because not only do I cherish our friendship but I also really count you as a complete expert in the topic that we’re talking about today. So I’m just thrilled to be able to discuss these issues with you. So a bit about me. I’m the chief creative officer of the firm Ballentine Partners which is the multifamily office and I’ve been there for 20 years come March of next year.
COVENTRY: I know, wow [laughs]. And we don’t look any older than I do. And I have now dedicated my time with the firm on writing this third book. And so I really spend my time sharing the lessons from these three books. The first book came out in 2014, Raised Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise, and that was aimed at helping parents raise children well amid abundance. And then the second book is Age Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise, which was 2017. And that’s really aimed at helping all of us have a vibrant later life, but also speaking to the hopes and dreams of middle-aged children for what they hope their parents will do to plan for their own passing so that the family is left with clarity and not discord. And then this book focuses the lens of this sort of positive success format on this very crazily little studied realm of the relationship between an inheritor and their significant other as they go about forging that the formative years of their relationship: when they first meet, when they get married, when they begin to have their own family, and all the ways in which wealth swirls around that and what I heard from the couples I interviewed about how to make that go well. So I spend time now talking about those lessons, and trying to help families who are in that very stage themselves.
JAMIE: One of the things I love about the model of your books is that it’s not just you’re coming to us with your expertise and what you’re seeing but you’re really going to the source, and asking parents or people who are aging now. And you’re absolutely right, Covey. It’s amazing how little studied it is at looking at this dynamic of coming together and becoming engaged and setting couples up for winning. So tell us about the subjects that you interviewed. Give us a little sense of where you really got most of the lessons and the truth because there’s some truths that really came out in this book.
COVENTRY: Thank you, Jamie. I really appreciate that. And I agree that’s what makes this fun for me. I get to hear these stories and I get to spend years listening to people. And it’s really such an honor and a privilege to be in that space to hear their stories and hear those feelings in the candor with which they express that to me. And it leaves me with a tremendous sense of duty to not only share those hard won lessons but also do it in a really, hopefully sensitive way to honor people’s experiences. So the people I interviewed are over 50 people, but that represented 22 couples and they were ranging in age from their 30s to their 70s. They were all still in their first marriages and probably 77% of them characterize themselves as an inheritor married to a non-inheritor. And the interviews were very open-ended. I really just talked with these individuals and asked them things like, “Tell me the story of you. Tell me how you first met. Tell me about how you first started talking about getting married.” And then, there was always (a question), “Tell me how wealth came up during that time for you.” And what was really shocking to me, Jamie, is that I kind of felt and I know what I had here. I’ve done this for, as he told me, 20 years. And I do work with individuals just like this and feel like I have good relationships with them. And that I would kind of know what would come out. And what I ended up hearing absolutely stunned me. And what I hope we can talk about today is the five things that I’ll never do the same as an advisor as a result of what I heard. And I thought a lot about why I was hearing things I’ve never heard before. And I think two things: One, I had guaranteed complete anonymity to these individuals (so they could be truly assured that what they said would not get back to their parents or even their advisory team, within our firm, if they were clients of ours). And on top of that, I often had both couples, both members of the couple on the phone. And the whole lens that I want to hear from you equally is that each of you are equal partners in this discussion. And I think that created freedom. Sad to say, I think in our industry, sometimes the partner who comes into the relationship with less money doesn’t feel as if they really have full carte blanche to say what’s really on their mind. And I think I was grateful to have created that environment. And I think I heard some new things as a result.
JAMIE: Wow, I’m really anxious to dive in and hear those five things. But I have a really quick question first. I think sometimes we worry as advisors. Particularly those people who are like, “This is my job, as well.” Coach and specialist. But for those of us who don’t wear that hat to really go in where we think there might be painful memories. I’m just wondering, when the conversations were over, did it have an effect of being a healing conversation, even if painful things were brought up? Just the opportunity to really share out loud their experience, did that make a positive difference for them?
COVENTRY: Yes. I’m so glad you asked that, Jamie, because I became pretty quickly aware that I was on hallowed ground in these discussions. I feel like I’ve done these interviews before I had my first book or my second book. But the first book was interviewing now grown people about wonderful things, their parents too. And the second book with vibrantly aging individuals about how their life is pretty good in general. Here I was on an absolute intimate ground of relationships, intimacy and money, and all those things in relationships with in-laws. And so I really felt both this tremendous awareness of the depths of the conversation. And I do feel that for almost everyone at the end, I got a lot as if one couple was added. So well, they actually do this thing annually where they call it their State of the Union. They go away to a restaurant that they don’t normally go to and they just talk about their relationship. And they schedule that and they make sure to kind of clear the air and talk about it. And it’s a very cool idea that when Mary finished our recovery, they said, “Well. This is like our State of the Union this year.” So I think it ended up being that and some people were reflecting for the first time in sort of a facilitated way about her painful topic. Some of the couples were recalling the prenuptial from 35 years ago and there were still tears. And I think that they felt relieved to be able to express that. And I felt this sense that they were wanting me to share the lessons they experienced so that others could benefit from them. And I think that provided a sense of, perhaps, purpose to why these conversations might be helpful to others.
JAMIE: Yeah and I’m really seeing that with the clients that I’ve recommended the book to be able to see there, even if it’s not a perfect fit but to see sort of their story reflected back in a compassionate way. And you interviewed all couples that are really in healthy relationships and like you said, in their first marriages. So doing it right, and yet still struggling and working through it. My clients said, “Wow. We thought we were the only ones.”
COVENTRY: That is so true. And I actually heard from a number of people two things. One was, “I wish there had been a book like this when I was going through this.” And I felt this sense of needing to be that book for everyone who’s going through it now. And I think that it’s true that they’re positive stories. But your point, it wasn’t pollyanna. It wasn’t everything was always perfect. A lot of it is how do we create something positive from something that might have been really, really challenging and how do we get through it. And I think that’s what I wanted to share how people really worked through these challenges that a lot of the couples we are working with faced and emerged on the other side stronger. It is really, in many instances, stronger, better, and closer as a couple.
JAMIE: That’s great, and there’s clearly so much for couples to learn. But there’s also so much for advisors to learn in this book. And I know you have talked about the five things that you’ll never do. Again, I’m so curious that someone, who’s been doing this for 20 years, has five things that you’ll never do again. Especially that we’re talking here to a group of advisers, enlighten us, Covie.
COVENTRY: Sure. Well, so to just take a little step back to give a little context about the sort of arc that the book covers, because then the five things fit within that arc. So, I set out to talk about love. But I realized pretty early that I can’t just start there. The story doesn’t really start there, particularly for either member of the couple. But where it really starts typically is, especially if you’re an inheritor, your process of individuation from your wealthy family, and how you kind of go about the process of proving to yourself that you have contributions of your own making and feeling good about that when you wake up every day. And so the whole first section of the book is called On Your Own. And it’s that process that I heard from the people I interviewed. Both sets of partners about how they became an adult, essentially in their 20s, and the things that they did to help themselves get there. Because what I really heard was that that provided a foundation that enabled them to then be able to let a relationship into their life essentially. And the second piece of that is being a piece that happens in a relationship: who you become often is the mirror of who you want to become in life. So that whole first section is all about that. So I’ll just give you the rest of the section that we can talk about very important advisor lessons that came out of that. The second section is Just The Two Of Us. It’s all about, “Okay. Now we’ve met. We’re going to somehow cement this relationship.” And so that gets into the really important conversations that couples need to have. Particularly if they’re coming to the relationship from different financial backgrounds. Things they should agree on and the whole prenuptial discussion, which can talk a lot about that. And then, the final one is Beyond Us. And that gets into the relationship with broader families. Families with the nest, not just the wealthier family. Parenting when you’re now trying to forge your own next generation. And then beyond all of the Beyond this, I heard from a lot of people that they, at some point, needed to redefine the wealth management ecosystem in their life to better be true to them and what they wanted. So advisors, trustees, attorneys, etc. So there’s a chapter on that. But back to this individuation section, if you hear from people that what they were struggling with is essentially shame, sometimes a sense of shame of unearned advantage. Sometimes, the shadows that we’ve had in our field are called the shadows of the looming success of their parents. And then also this support that whether it’s financial support, or just well-meaning people doing a lot of things for them that they might otherwise do in their own life support that essentially undermines their own capacity. And so people said, “These are what we’ve struggled with. Here’s how we got through it. We got through by essentially developing the success characteristics.” I talk about my first book, at some point, supporting themselves being engaged in a career of their own choosing, having some sense of self esteem, driven by their own contributions, and then being able to get themselves out of a problem of their own making. And while they were on this journey, I heard some stories saying, “Here’s what was helpful. Here it was not helpful”. And so, the lesson to the advisor is that a lot of us are in the business of providing ‘multigenerational services.’ And what that often means to the parent who is employing those services and has hired the advisor is, “I want you to be ‘helpful to my family’, my whole family, including my children. So when my 22 year old is out there in the world, and they’re renting their first apartment, or they’re figuring out what their first job is about, I want you to kind of hold their hand and do those things for them.” And what I heard from one couple in particular was, “We were doing just the things we shouldn’t have done. We’re in our 20s. We’re out there and we’re sort of mastering adulting skills, figuring out how to pay our bills. And all of a sudden the family office is created, and all these things are lifted from us. And the family office does all this stuff for us.” And this couple was reflecting on this now 30 years later, and saying that they felt that was really not good for them. It was very infantilizing. And they ended up feeling when they looked around 10 years into this. That they didn’t know how to do anything that a lot of their peers know how to do. “How do I get insurance? How are all those things? What does it even mean to pay my taxes? Right now I call somebody and it happens.” So, the conclusion for me as an advisor was that I think we need to do a better job. And I include myself in this, too, of stepping into the space between what the parent is asking for the help they’re asking for, and help we provide and saying to the parent, “I want to help your family. Here’s what help is, actually, let me understand. I think the goal that we’re talking about is that you want a child who feels capable, self-sufficient, and secure in their ability to function in life. We share that goal. Here’s how you actually manifest that goal. And that means I should not be doing the things for the child. I shouldn’t be calling them five times to remind them to get their tax form and whatever. I should be working with you to help set the expectation about what you should say to your children. They’re supposed to do it for themselves. And I will also coach the child about how one goes about doing these things in life. How does one get an apartment? Oh, here’s what you do. Here’s who you can call.” There’s a guy in our industry, just Tableau and he has this thing called the Golden Sippy Cup Rule, which I just love. And it’s as soon as a child is two-years-old, old enough to title over to the dishwasher and put the sippy cup in on their own. Let them do that. And I think it’s that principle writ large. If the 25-year-old can call the insurance company on their own, let them do that, because they will develop a sense of capacity in doing that. So that’s one. So any questions on that one, Jamie?
JAMIE: I just think, not really a question, but I just love that. Because I think sometimes what parents are short-sighted about is they think they’re being helpful. And kids think this is useful in the short run because it makes their life easier but they aren’t thinking long term. And I can’t tell you how many clients I have that have so much shame because they never learned how to balance their checkbook. They never learned the basics of their taxes when they were supposed to learn it. And now they’re in their 50s and it’s mortifying to them and it’s like not knowing how to read as an adult. So what I really heard you saying is, “Let’s teach age appropriate skills at the developmental time. Let them get their sea legs around it.” And then what happens later on in terms of family office services might shift, once they know that they have some core competencies. Is that pretty much what you’re saying?
COVENTRY: Absolutely. And I think that part of this is working with the parents on what the narrative is. Because I talk in the book about part of what’s really hard for parents is they know that their child knows that they could be helping in some way. They can have the advisor do it for them. They could pay for all this stuff to be done. And so they feel like it either looks punitive or hypocritical to be somehow not providing the help. And I encourage parents to just be really transparent about this. “Of course, we could buy that thing for you. Of course, we get someone to do that for you. But we’re not, because we love you. And we want you to do those things on your own. Because we know it will help you feel more capable and happy in your life.” And sometimes if you ask parents a knee-jerk response, “What’s your dream for your child?” Most parents will say (including me), “I want them to be happy”. But then when you really think in your own life, going through the world as an adult, what actually do you want for yourself each and every day, it’s that you feel capable of handling what life throws at you in each and every given day. And that actually often produces contentment and happiness. And so I think that we have to help our clients, our parents, think about, “How do I help my child feel capable?” And often, it’s a different set of immediate to-do’s and often exactly the opposite from the ones that would help them be happy in the moment. So that’s lesson one. The other lesson was all about information education. Because back to the shame point, as I’m sure you see all the time too, Jamie, when a young person is still struggling with that shame and feeling like, “I’m just trying to figure out who I am without this money so I can maybe get to a point where I can come back and engage with the money with some agency.” Information about the money can be worse than unhelpful. It can be destructive. I heard stories in the book about inheritors getting investment reporting statements in the mail every quarter and just looking at these and feeling a tremendous sense of both not understanding it, but also not even really wanting to understand it, just literally wanting to hide it in a drawer. And so what I realized from that is, again, stepping into the space between what the parent is often asking for — which is, “Can you educate my child?” — and often what the parent means by that question is what the parent is currently viewing in their life as education, or you get a sort of typical 60-year-old or 70-year-old who’s maybe had some financial success is now engaged in financial matters, like evaluating investments, looking at private equity deals. And so they think my 22-year-old should learn about these things when in reality, what that 22-year-old really needs is some space in their own life, to be able to define and learn about money matters that matter to them, that they feel some sense of agency over like, “Oh. I got this job. Oh. from this payment, I get a paycheck. I can afford this rent on this apartment, and oh, there’s this 401k thing, and what’s that all about?” Those types of matters. And what I saw from the stories is that it was only when people started to experience some success in financial matters that they felt belonged to them. That they finally were able to throw off this mantle of money and finances only the domain of my parents. And finally think, “Okay. There’s something here that I get.” And it was when they developed that sense of agency that they then became curious about the broader stuff and could understand and intake that information. So I’ve been finding myself doing more work now with parents to say, “Let’s talk about the difference between the education you’re wanting your child to have and the education that is going to actually be helpful for them at this stage.” And that will ultimately get them coming back to learn the things that you’re doing now. That, again, is basically saying, “It’s recasting what the parent is looking for, and trying to do something a little bit different.”
JAMIE: Great, great. And we knew this was going to happen and that we were going to get frustrated. Because this is a shorter format. There’s so much I want to ask you and because I know that we’re already at the 20 minute mark, we’re probably going to have to do it a little bit more bite size. And maybe you’ll come back for round two for more in depth. But share with us the other three lessons.
COVENTRY: Okay, I’ll bite-sized now. Okay. Recent studies, well, maybe a little bit more than three senses. But so I did talk about love and the fact that who you are as a person identity often is formed in a relationship. And so I heard from a lot of the inheritor partners that this person that they’re now married to was the first person who saw them as an adult, that first person that really was viewing them as who they wanted to become. And so what’s interesting is when that’s the situation, what ends up happening is the inheritor is often changing, they’re often evolving into the adult they sort of were always meant to be. And what can sometimes happen then is that other people in the system, the inheritors parents or the advisors, view that change as maybe not good. And I think the partner is the one quote, “Changing the inherent boat, rocking the boat, the instigator.” All this stuff, when in reality, how the two members, the couple, perceive it is that they are both that mirror for each other. And they’re both becoming exactly who they’re meant to be. And I heard a lot of people say things like, “My partner keeps me who I am. They keep me as that person. They’re the ones who I can turn to,” Which is kind of you hear this in a lot of stories about love. And that’s what the partners in functioning relationships do. That’s what partners do for each other. So the takeaway for the advisor was to view that partner as the gift and they are not the instigator. Or view the change that is happening as natural and normal, and perhaps good. Of course, we all know about relationships that are not great and shouldn’t have worked out from the get go. But my view was, there are many, most of the ones I’m familiar with or relationships that are good should work, if only this wealth stuff and all of the advisory ecosystem doesn’t look it up essentially. So that’s the takeaway on that one is basically to understand what’s happening and help. I think that we, as advisors, can really help the wealth generating parents understand that that’s the partners role. And try to see their child, their adult child, as their partner. And try to see their child’s partner as the child sees them. And that’s not easy, but I think it’s really helpful. Okay, last two points. There’s two chapters on Prenuptial Agreements, Jamie. As I know, my concise takeaway is I will never approach a prenuptial agreement as a check-the-box standard-risk mitigation item again. Probably in every conversation I had, at least 25% to a third became about the prenuptial process that happened and how painful it was and how some of the scars are still present. As I mentioned, tears are still there 30 years later. And so the takeaway there was I’m not talking about all prenuptials as being bad. It’s the particular situation in which the person or entity driving the process is not really the couple themselves. It is the advisor or the parent or someone from the outside that is coming in at pretty much the final hour and saying, “You need this thing.” Which is just a check-the-box thing. And so the stories are all about really painful dynamics that can be introduced into a relationship: loyalty, quality, lack of agency, unity, and how these couples made it through that in very relationship enhancing ways. But I encourage anyone contemplating this to read those stories and see not only what not great processes felt like but there are some stories there, a good process which is I’d say a mediated process where there’s someone who’s really standing for the couple together, not the couple as each represented by opposing counsel. So then, the last piece is, as I mentioned, I get into parenting. So now, here you are as an inheritor and your partner is trying to pair your own children. And one of the questions that comes up in that chapter is to take stock of your own life and think, “Am I the adult I hope my child will become?” And one of the interesting insights that came to a lot of the people I spoke with when they did that analysis, one of the few remaining areas in their life where they were still essentially a child, was their wealth management ecosystem. Sort of how they were treated by an advisor, a trustee, or an attorney who really just saw them as the subordinate ‘next gen’ to the paying wealth generating parent client. And there’s an entire chapter about how these people went from that state of affairs, the subordinate, to remaking the whole world to be the person in charge. And so the takeaway for advisors, often what happens there is there’s a breaking the chapters called breaking free. There’s a ‘breaking away.’ I think in The Voice of the Rising Generation, Keith (Whitaker), James (Huges, Jr.), and Susan (Massenzio) talk about 98% of Next Gen fires their parents advisor. And so part of the takeaway for advisors in our whole industry really is if it’s normal for each generation to kind of want to go their own way to some degree. And individually within their wealth management framework, let’s accept that and say it’s okay. And sometimes we are conflating things in a not great way. We’re saying that successful wealth preservation necessitates togetherness, when in reality in a family business context, when you have basically inherited pretty much liquid wealth, you can have very successful wealth management. And you don’t need really intricate structures to lock people together to manage wealth and you also don’t need any assets to enjoy the type of family togetherness that most families enjoy like reunions and shared storytelling. So I basically say, “What if we could focus as an industry on trying to provide people the autonomy they’re seeking in their wealth management, but then help them as families, create togetherness moments that are actually enjoyable and low stakes for everyone involved, rather than putting it all together in the pot.” And I heard from a lot of people that that approach would have been far better if they ended up spending 10-20 years trying to disaggregate from a family management ecosystem, a family office, and Trustee that was basically constraining them so they couldn’t become who they were trying to become. And what the last thing I found, though, is when they finally got it done, I heard from people, that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done — And by the way, I credit my spouse with helping us persevere — and I only wish I’d done it earlier. Because now I feel liberated. I feel like I can be myself. I feel it is finally engaged with my money. And I can use it for things I believe in. So it was really inspiring to hear the people who felt on the back end of that, and I kind of just wanted to give everyone else permission, because a lot of people said, “I didn’t know I could do this. And I’ve been made to feel like I’m a horrible person basically because I’ve wanted to do this.”
JAMIE: Well, I think those are all gems. And I really encourage people to, especially if you resonate with those gems, to get Covie’s book, read Covey’s book, because the stories really illustrate beautifully each of those points, and the pain and what couples did to find their own agency to work together. And I know one of my most important advisory roles is coming up. I’m hoping that my son and his girlfriend will be getting engaged soon. So I’ve already bought two copies — you did not autograph them but you wrote in — I can’t wait to give it to them because I think if I try to explain these things to them, it will fall short. But if I give them your book, and allow them to see other people’s stories reflect it, and how they worked it out, then I think, first of all, we have a lot more of the basis to start a conversation amongst us. But they also really get to see how they want to move. And I’m hoping that they’ll make their own decisions, and that will serve more as a role to support them. So I thank you on that very, very personal individual level. This was perfect timing. Thank you on behalf of the PPI community because I know that this conversation will really add to each of our wisdom. So thank you.
COVENTRY: Oh. Well, thank you, Jamie. And that means so much to me that it would have any benefit in your life. And I’d say if that’s your approach, basically just providing it and stepping back and letting them make their own decisions. I think you’re 95% of the way there. Because I think that that’s so much of what I heard people really appreciated, was a kind of feeling trusted to define their own life with their partner, being in the space to lead a couple defined life rather than something outside of that. So thank you, Jamie. I’ve been enjoying our time together.
JAMIE: I did too, and we will have more in the future, I promise. Thank you, Covie.