Warren Buffett’s Advice to Avoid Raising Entitled Kids

In The Blum Firm’s email series on Family Legacy Planning, last week’s email raised a question that stirred up a lot of interest. The focus of the email was suggested topics for discussion at the first family meeting. Our recommendation is to start the process with visionary, or “heart,” topics such as “What does it mean to be a member of this family? What do we stand for? Who are we as a family and what are the benefits of being part of this family?” Coming together to explore questions like these helps a family discover its ethos. This discovery helps unify the family around the family’s shared values. Following that opening discussion, future meetings can shift to more informational topics.

But before we shift from visionary topics to more concrete ones, let’s dive deeper into one of last week’s questions that generated curiosity: “How do we avoid raising entitled kids?” We at The Blum Firm have discovered that this question is one that keeps many of our clients awake at night. They worry about money ruining their kids. They often ask: How much is the right amount to give my kids? Here’s my favorite answer: The right amount to give your kids is the amount they are prepared to receive. The problem is less about the amount the kids receive, and more about the kids not being prepared to receive it. We have to be intentional about training our kids to be responsible inheritors. Preparing heirs is a big part of the family meeting process.

This question brings to mind an important Q & A I was privileged to have with Warren Buffett. At a Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting a few years ago, I was selected to ask the “Oracle of Omaha” a question. I decided to ask about his estate plan. I recalled his famous statement that he wanted to leave his kids “enough so they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.” I asked him to share with us how much that is. In his thoughtful answer, Mr. Buffett went further. His advice sheds a lot of light on the challenge of raising kids so they don’t become entitled.

For a summary of my Q & A with Warren Buffett, click this link to read an article in The Globe and Mail (Canada’s version of the Wall Street Journal). The first sentence of Buffett’s answer to my question is powerful: “I think more of our kids are ruined by the behavior of their parents than by the amount of the inheritance.” In a nutshell, Buffett warns that our kids are watching us more than they are listening to us. There’s a lot to do in order for us to raise responsible kids, but it all starts by setting a good example.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum and Warren Buffett.