At the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy in San Francisco on Wednesday, billionaire investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett took to the stage to discuss his lifetime of giving.
The Oracle of Omaha, who will turn 88 in August, pointed out his own longevity–“I have lived for more than a third of the life of this country”–and discussed how his three children may carry on his philanthropic legacy.
“Every single share of Berkshire I own will be diverted into philanthropy 10 years after my estate is executed for future philanthropists who can see future needs,” Buffett told conference attendees.
“I might be able to think outside the box, but when the box is 6 feet under, I’m not so sure.”
His remarks contained some valuable advice–wisdom picked up in the course of his nearly nine decades.
Let Your Children Find Jobs That Interest Them
It’s not unusual for parents to push kids into a career choice that might not be the best fit for the child. Buffett warned against this.
“I’ve seen people try to steer their children, and the worst thing you could do is use money to induce given behavior with kids,” Buffet said.
“I told my kids they don’t have to do anything ... finish college, become doctors or lawyers. ... I told them to use their talents in whatever form they think will create the greatest net benefit to society.”
Buffett’s son Peter is an Emmy-award winning musician and author.
His son Howard is a farmer and sits on the board of Berkshire Hathaway.
His daughter Susie is primarily a philanthropist and lives in Omaha.
Don’t Keep The Contents Of Your Will A Secret
Plenty of people don’t reveal the contents of their will to heirs while the parent is still alive.
Buffett counseled against this, saying he would not execute his will until his children had given their feedback.
“They have two things to decide. First, do they understand their responsibilities, and second, do they think that what I’ve done is fair,” Buffett explained.
In essence: Why surprise them after you’ve already passed away?
Don’t Force Your Children To Do Philanthropy Together
Buffett, who cofounded The Giving Pledge with Bill and Melinda Gates, has already committed to giving nearly all of his $82.9 billion net worth to philanthropic causes, including to those of his children.
Each of his three kids has a charitable foundation–the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the Sherwood Foundation and the NoVo Foundation, run by Howard, Susan and Peter, respectively–to which their father makes contributions of Berkshire Hathaway stock every year.
Having separate foundations for each child helps maintain harmony among the siblings, Buffett explained.
“By not forcing them together, it brings them together,” he told conference attendees.
“You don’t need to put them in a common pool.”
Each of his children’s foundations has a different area of focus which, according to Buffett, is exactly what he’d hoped for.
The Howard G. Buffett Foundation supports efforts to improve quality of life in the world’s most impoverished areas.
Susie’s Sherwood Foundation, meanwhile, focuses on Nebraska and promoting equality and social justice in the family’s home state.
And Peter’s NoVo Foundation works to invest in and empower women around the world.
There Is Such A Thing As Too Big An Inheritance
Buffett, currently the world’s fourth-richest person, according to Forbes, isn’t saying exactly how much he will leave to his children when he dies.
But if he adheres to his own dictum, it will be a relatively small piece of his very large fortune.
His advice: “You should leave your children enough so they can do anything, but not enough so they can do nothing.”