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Trusts may preserve wealth for generations

New York residents may wonder why some family fortunes seem to endure for decades or even centuries while others peter out after only one or two generations. Such fortunes are often amassed by a towering central figure like Cornelius Vanderbilt or John D. Rockefeller, and the estate plans that these individuals put into place often determined how long their wealth would last.

The Vanderbilts were once one of the nation's wealthiest families, but the railroad and shipping fortune is now all but depleted. The Rockefeller family are still among America's richest, and part of the credit for this should go to the trusts set up by John D. Rockefeller. Trusts allow grantors to control how their assets will be managed and distributed after they are gone, and they can prevent vast fortunes from being exhausted by the lavish spending of heirs.

Observers have noticed that family wealth rarely lasts for longer than three generations. They say that fortunes fail to endure due to a combination of estate and capital gains taxes, poor investment choices and the division of assets among generations of heirs. However, many of these problems can be avoided or mitigated by intelligent estate planning. Trusts can be written to limit tax exposure and risk by structuring the distribution of assets and specifying what type of investment is acceptable. People can also protect their fortunes by choosing trustees who are likely to understand the importance of long-term wealth management.

Experienced estate planing attorneys have likely encountered individuals who fear that the fruits of their hard work will be squandered by extravagant heirs or depleted by taxation. Attorneys could explain how using trusts could make such outcomes less likely, and they may also point out the probate avoidance possiblities.

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