Sometimes when you hear a new term it takes a bit of time to let its true meaning sink in. It happened to me this week, but the more that I think about the term, the better I like it.

About six months ago, I joined a group called the Purposeful Planning Institute, in large part because the term “Purposeful” really resonnated with me. If we are going to make plans (usually a good idea) why shouldn’t we do so with a true and well-thought-out purpose?

The PPI holds an annual Rendez-Vous in Colorado every summer, and I have already made plans to attend, because I really love the idea of exchanging stories and ideas with like-minded people. There will surely be at least one blog post as a result of that trip.

But one of the coolest features of the PPI is the weekly conference call every Tuesday at noon. The quality of the speakers is exceptional, and this week we got to hear from Dean Fowler, who has been working with business families for about 30 years. Most of his clients are third- and fourth-generation, because he has consciously chosen to work with successful families.

Fowler’s early career had him working with dysfunctional families, usually in cases where a will and estate plan were contested after the wealthy parents passed away. As he explained in the preamble to his talk, those estate plans did not fail because they were created by bad lawyers, bad accountants, and bad life insurance people. There was something else going on (or NOT going on) among the family members.

Having worked with both dysfunctional and successful families, he was able to see what worked and what did not. I realize that I will not be doing his entire talk justice here, but there were two key take-aways that I got from it.

The first is Pre-Mediated Planning and the second is a Proactive Next Generation. Proactive is a word that took some time to grow on me, and I will surely pick up the subject of the next generation taking on a more active role in a future blog, but the Pre-Mediated Planning was what stood out for me, and what I really want to zero in on today.

By definition, Fowler’s work as a mediator was required because there was a disagreement AFTER the fact. Plans were put into place, the person responsible for the plans passed away, and the successors disagreed with the plans, so a mediator is needed.

Pre-mediated planning, on the other hand, makes sure that the plans are understood BEFORE the person passes away, which allows the plans to be re-worked. Taking the time to explain, assess the reaction, accept some feedback, revise the plans, explain them again, discuss them with the family, etc. will always be time well spent in advance, which will avoid the need for costly, gut-wrenching, family-destroying fights afterwards.

So why don’t more families do this kind of planning? My guess is that the major reason is that so many of the senior generation believe that they know best, and they still view their children as just that, children. Fowler also mentioned that he refers to adult offspring as “former children”, to force the parents to accept that they are now adults, capable of their own independent thoughts without being told what to do by Mommy and Daddy.

Of course the greatest challenge here comes down to communication, as it usually does. You really “gotta wanna” do this, to do it right. It is much easier to do nothing and fight it out after. But that is so much uglier, so sad and so unnecessary too.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.