Financial Planning Tips to Take from the Wealthiest Families

above: Eliot Bassin

The world’s wealthiest families aren’t scurrying around in March and April looking for their tax forms. They’ve got people for that. And if the family’s balance sheet tops $100 million, they probably have an entire Family Office, which includes dedicated financial advisers, tax pros, trust and estate attorneys, and insurance advisers.

Eliot Bassin, a Certified Public Accountant who works with high-net-worth clients in Fairfield County and beyond, calls this supporting cast “the Core Four,” and he believes that every family, regardless of their level of wealth, can benefit from a similar group of pros.

In a Family Office or Multi-Family Office, professionals unite around a family’s articulated goals. Financial advisers manage investments, CPAs handle tax planning, trust and estate attorneys safeguard assets over the long term, insurance advisers protect it all. This effort doesn’t come cheap. Maintaining a Family Office can cost $1 million or more each year.

“It’s an integrated approach to planning,” integration being the key to its success, says Bassin, a Certified Public Accountant and partner with FML CPAs in Stamford.

While many folks here in lower Fairfield County, regardless of their net worth, do enlist help from financial advisers, CPAs, attorneys and the like, many do so only when a service is needed, such as calling a CPA at tax time, or meeting an estate attorney when making out a will.

In the process, the family’s financial undertakings tend to “be less integrated,” Bassin says. “By waiting until they actually have to make a change, they might be missing out on opportunities along the way.”

He suggests a cohesive, collective, proactive effort to assemble your team of trusted professionals, “before you anticipate the need.” In other words, pick up the phone or the mouse and introduce your various advisers to each other.

How you structure a business or your real estate holdings or your investment accounts today, will significantly affect how you might transfer that wealth to the next generation. It might not seem pressing or even relevant now, but if your ventures prove successful and lucrative (and more complex), your decisions today are critical.

Bassin willingly connects with his clients’ advisers along the way. “It’s one way that we get to understand clients and to know what they’re trying to accomplish. I have a client right now whose financial adviser I speak with once every three or four weeks.” Together they stay on top of impending issues; for example, discussing capital gains options like gifting and gift-tax exemptions well before the year’s end.

Getting your team on the same page can be a challenge if you don’t actually know what you and your family are trying to accomplish. Begin by determining your goals, values and challenges, then you and your Core Four can work toward integrating a strategy. While you could navigate this effort by yourself, “sometimes it’s hard to piece things together,” Bassin says. Your team members, though, deal with issues like this each day; they can educate you so that you won’t make a rash decision. “They can get you to think about things you might not think about on your own,” Bassin says.


A local couple came to CPA Eliot Basin with a noble wish: to sell their $1.5 million home to their children, to finance the mortgage themselves, and to forgive a substantial portion of their kids’ loan. What was the best way to proceed?

Basin gathered two other members of the couple’s team—their financial adviser and their trust and estate attorney—and got to work. Together, the group analyzed the couple’s investments and retirement accounts, helped determine how much the pair needed in annual cash flow to live on comfortably, ascertained the amount of principal and interest they could gift to their kids without exceeding gift tax exemptions, spelled out what would happen if they were to die still owning the house, and more. In the process, they removed the house from the couple’s estate so that they wouldn’t exceed Connecticut’s $13.61 million cap.