It’s an all-too-familiar tale. The head of a household suddenly dies and there is no planned handoff of the family’s finances.

That’s what happened in the Mann household.

Thomas Mann, a partner and management consultant at Accenture, controlled the family’s finances. His wife, Clodagh, was on the sidelines for the most part, and his four children were not involved in the family’s money issues.

So when Mann, of Katy, Texas, suddenly passed away in September 2017 at the age of 54, his twin sons Owen and Daniel, the eldest of his kids, had to quickly learn to pick up the pieces and carry on the financial legacy their father built.
Daniel had just started his sophomore year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was the first day of school when he got a call from Owen, a student at the University of Texas, informing him that their dad had a mass on his lung, which turned out to be malignant.

“Basically, from the time we were notified that dad was seriously ill until the time he passed was about a month,” Daniel said.

Both brothers, now 22, were in constant contact, deciding who would do what in terms of taking off from school. At the same time, the family was dealing with the damages Hurricane Harvey had wreaked on their home.

Three weeks after getting the call from Owen, Daniel said he got a call from his mom telling him that he “needed to come home now.” He flew home so he could have some time with his dad. But Daniel said he thought the best thing was to go back to school because it would help him get his mind off things.

With input from his mom and uncles, Daniel said it was decided that he could go back to school since Owen had decided to stay home. “As the semester progressed, everything was fine. We were dealing with it in our different ways,” he said.

But the family’s finances needed attention. Owen said that once their father died, they had to get things done rapidly and figure out what was going on.

Taking The Lead

Steve Schwarzbach of Icon Wealth Partners in Houston, along with partner Mark McAdams, had been serving as the family’s financial advisors. They were longtime friends of the family, who had been clients for more than 20 years.

Owen and Daniel were given the go-ahead by their mother to take the lead on the family finances. “My mom is not risky at all, she is conservative, so she said talk to Steve and see where you guys are in terms of the risk scale,” Daniel said, adding that they learned the different lingo and had to understand terms such as “risk management” and “risk portfolio.”

“Dan and I weren’t too enthusiastic about the world of finances,” Owen said. “We didn’t have that much experience in it. We took macroeconomic classes in our senior year and enjoyed it.” He noted that Daniel soon added economics to his major.

The brothers began meeting with Schwarzbach every two weeks when they were out of school. “He sat down with us and walked us through the investments that dad was making. It cleared our minds,” Owen said.

The brothers acknowledged that they did not understand the breadth of their dad’s investments when they first began meeting with Schwarzbach. “It was a learning curve,” Daniel said. “Owen said he is not into finance but he sure does read a lot of finance books,” Daniel quipped.

“Steve was very helpful, he was instructive and let us know what was going on,” Owen said.

Schwarzbach said that because Thomas Mann’s passing was so sudden, there was no real time to make sure everything was in order. And the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey made things more chaotic because the city of Houston was still trying to dig out from the effects of the hurricane. “It was a generally chaotic time,” he said.

“And while Tommy had the family’s financial matters well organized, it was a complicated estate: partnerships, business interests and properties in multiple states, assets requiring probate etc.,” Schwarzbach said.

“Having Owen and Daniel to work with on the more traditional assets that we managed for the family allowed their mother to focus more attention on some of the more complicated matters. It was a total team effort,” he said. “We have known the boys since they were very young and it was very rewarding to see them step up in the face of such a devastating loss.”

McAdams noted that they needed to reallocate the portfolio—reduce risk, focus more on income production—given that Thomas was the family’s primary breadwinner. “Having Owen and Daniel working with their mom gave us an extra set of eyes on what we were proposing, which helped make the transition smoother,” McAdams said.

The brothers said they are now finishing up their senior year in college. Schwarzbach relays information about the family’s finances to their mother and sends them packets of information with his advice, asking for their input.

This experience, both brothers agree, has made them more financially aware. “It makes me more vigilant of the world around me economically as well as politically,” Owen said, adding that he is more cognizant of political events and the markets in terms of where to invest money and when to take it out.

But the situation also made them realize the importance of including the whole family in financial planning, and teaching children about finances at a young age.
“I think even offering a class like financial literacy, whether in junior high or as an elective in high school, would go a long way in helping kids,” Owen said, noting that they are fortunate to have a financial advisor to walk them through their father’s investments.

“I think it’s so essential as a life skill,” added Daniel. He also said that by age 16 or 17 kids should get an idea of their parents’ finances, because it would add perspective on how they can better manage their spending.

But aside from knowing about your parents’ finances, Daniel said being able to learn about finances in high school would go a long way in teaching kids about money. “I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have such as class,” he said.