(Dow Jones) Financial education for younger family members is often a lower priority for wealth managers than issues such as asset management and estate planning.

Maybe it should be taken more seriously. Education plays an important role in helping ultra-high-net-worth families control their legacies through successive generations.

"It's an integral part of the financial-planning process," said Anne Shumadine, chairman and co-founder of Norfolk, Va.-based multifamily office Signature Financial Management. "Most successful families discuss finances with their children." In this regard, families with businesses have a natural edge because "it's often something [they] talk about with or in front of children," Shumadine said.

For families that don't run businesses or avoid money talk around the dining table, charitable giving can bring families together and educate junior members about handling money. "Getting children involved in philanthropy is an easy way to teach them about family values, investing and budgeting," said Shumadine, whose firm manages about $2 billion. Roughly a third of those assets are managed for families with at least $20 million in investable assets.

Education can also take more formal approaches involving coaches and special sessions for younger family members -- in the context of an annual family reunion, for instance. These can take the form of classroom-style lectures, break-out groups, role-playing exercises or even professionally produced theatrical presentations.

Such education is a must for wealthy families, according to Jon Carroll of the New York-based consultancy Family Office Metrics -- and not just for junior family members. "Each family member should have an individually prepared and delivered education program describing the current asset-allocation plan," Carroll wrote in a 2001 description of the functions of the family office in the Journal of Wealth Management. The aim is to give family members a firm understanding of the impact of taxes, inflation and expenses on a portfolio's growth.

However families achieve the goal of familiarizing children with the family's financial standing and overall attitudes toward money -- through osmosis or by more deliberate means -- the process is best started early.

"Attitudes and beliefs about money are set by the time you're 12," Shumadine said. "How parents spend, live and talk about money -- or not -- has a huge impact." She said children have to be taught that "money is a reward for working, not a tool to support a life of jet setting and gambling."

Families that frown on "trust-fund babies" have the added burden of educating children on practical aspects of wealth management.

"The goal isn't always to preserve the family fortune in one pot," Shumadine said. "Some families prefer individual pots so [that] family members don't feel stifled and you don't end up with children who never really have to learn responsibility. That can be a big issue."

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