What Is Wrong With This Picture? –Susan Schoenfeld

Point of View
5 min readDec 5, 2023
Photo by Tasha Lyn on Unsplash

Susan R. Schoenfeld, CEO and Founder of Wealth Legacy Advisors LLC, serves as a ‘thought partner’ to families of wealth through personal attention and human spirit. Susan is an award-winning Thought Leader; she provides guidance on legacy, next-generation, stewardship, governance, leadership succession, and philanthropy. She recently spoke on Family Governance at Opal Group’s Family Office Forum West.

My journey to working with families on what is so often in the wealth management space called the soft tissues, but I actually think they’re the hardest issues of all so I call them the human issues of wealth, all started with a human encounter.

I describe myself as a recovering trusts and estates lawyer. At some point I realized that there was more I could be doing for families of wealth beyond just drafting their estate planning documents. I then went in-house at a wealth management trust firm, and while working there, I had one of those Aha! moments.

You can visualize the scene; many of you have probably been in this movie before. Picture a mahogany-paneled conference room with plush rugs, ornate fixtures and stunning floral centerpiece. A couple from the Midwest who had just experienced an enormous liquidity event came in to interview my former firm, and they invited one person from every department to make a pitch. If only you were a client of ours, here’s all the wonderful things that we could do for you.

And I sat there watching as the business development guy directed his attention to the husband, and worked his way through the pitch book. And I watched as the investment guy directed his attention to the husband and described his investment philosophy, and then watched as the tax guy directed his attention to the husband, and spoke of different tax strategies.

What was wrong with this picture? Obviously, nobody paid any attention to the wife.

I was the only other woman in the room, and I watched her become increasingly unengaged, checking her watch, checking her phone. Nobody paid attention to her. When my turn came to speak, I lasered in on her and asked, “What keeps you up at night?”

What she said rocked my world and changed my focus forever. She said, “We live in a small town in the Midwest and we just had this enormous liquidity event. I have two teenage sons, who are suddenly the most popular kids in school. I’m scared to death that they’re going to lose their way, that they are going to lose their incentive to make something of themselves and I can really use some guidance on what other families are doing.”

That’s what everybody wants to know, what are the keys to success for other families who have successfully navigated this journey of raising kids in an atmosphere of wealth and having them grow up to be competent and confident stewards of wealth.

Out of that encounter, I created a series of women and wealth workshops and next gen workshops, which of course now everyone does, but this was back in 2000, and I’m proud to say that it came out of a real client need. Ultimately, I left that wealth management firm to join a $500 million single family office to help identify and cultivate leadership in the next generation, and then a little over 10 years ago, I launched my firm Wealth Legacy Advisors, which I describe as a thought partner to families of wealth and their trusted advisors on these kinds of human issues that keep families up at night.

What keeps families up at night, unless it’s a particularly volatile day in the markets, is not your investments. It’s probably not your taxes unless you just received a letter from the IRS. What keeps most families up at night is, how do I raise my kids or my grandkids to become competent and confident stewards of wealth. Those really are the most critical areas.

Susan Schoenfeld, a public speaker & thought partner to families of wealth and their advisors, is an award-winning thought leader. Susan’s switch from successful estate planning attorney and CPA to a trusted family advisor and thought-partner was inspired by families of wealth asking her searching questions beyond estate tax planning. As a conflict-free advisor who provides no investment, tax, or legal advice and sells no product, Susan shares her insights directly with wealthy families and with financial services experts. She is active as a keynote speaker and a leader of break-out sessions and workshops at conferences throughout the US.

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Point of View

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