The Catch

by Matthew Wesley on December 27, 2010

In the last several entries, we explored the various elements of transition plans that can work to shape the mindsets of beneficiaries to manage wealth well. These included teaching components, connection components, consequences components, responsibility components, and accountability components. While all of these structures and the principles underlying them can be wonderful, it seems that they simply don’t work if they are merely imposed by the senior generation.  We have all seen private foundations that have buy-in by the entire family and those that don’t.  If everyone has a voice in its governance, the structure can be a wonderful legacy. However, we also know that if the senior generation sets up the structure without that deeper buy-in, the foundation becomes, at best, a burden to the future generations.  The same dynamic seems to be in play with these more innovative trust structures. Whether the family continues to cohere is a set of decisions that needs to be made anew by at least the first three or four generations.  The skill in creating an estate plan is not in designing structures that will foster human, social and cultural capital – that process is relatively simple.  The difficult part lies in being able to facilitate a process in the family dynamics whereby multiple generations come to agreement as to what these structures should be and how they should function in ongoing family systems.   In our experience, no one generation can ensure the success of the family as a whole.  We find that the only way to create these kinds of successful transition plans is to give the family tools that will allow diverse people to work together in ways that bring life to these structures.   Many advisors can create mechanical structures that ostensibly fit these needs.  Facilitating a process that creates trans-generational buy-in to the process is the true art of this type of transition planning.

Questions

  1. Is it your experience that many transition plans fail because the family was inadequately prepared and had too little input into the process?
  2. Do you see value in having family meetings to create transition plans in which the entire family participates?

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