Working Out the Family Dynamics – Before Vs. After

My Bias Has a Clear Winner

This week we’re revisiting an old idea but looking at it in a new way. There will be some flashbacks and an interesting juxtaposition that came from a peer call that inspired this post and the lookback.

We’ll also have a look at two ways of doing something important that each occur with some frequency, and for which I have a clear bias for one over the other, even though it is way less popular than the other.

An 8-Year Blog Flashback

As I sat down to write this piece, I began with some notes from a recent call that gave me a good starting point, but it was not nearly fully formed, and coming up with a title was presenting a struggle.

As I turned it over and over in my head, I had a flashback to a post from 2014, and then had to shake my head as I did the math and realized that I wrote about another version of this over 8 years ago.

The good news is that I haven’t changed my mind and my bias remains intact. If anything, it has been reinforced.

Back in 2014, inspired by a webinar by the Purposeful Planning Institute, I wrote Pre-Mediated Planning, Sounds Good to Me.

That blog was inspired by Dean Fowler, a psychologist with a long history of helping enterprising families work through the intricacies of an intergenerational wealth transition.

Having come to this work many decades ago as a mediator, frequently brought in by lawyers of disputants, Fowler was advocating for clearing up potential landmines before they became problematic.

The 6-Month Rush and 4-Year Clean-Up

Getting back to the recent peer call, one of the leaders was referencing a case where the family had rushed through some of the structural planning for an upcoming transition in about six months, and who were then pleased that that work was now behind them.

Lo and behold, however, once some of the previously uninvolved family members learned about some of the terms that had been arrived at by the family leadership, problems quickly appeared.

Once a number of the ideas that some thought of as a “fait accompli” were deemed deficient in the eyes of those who were actually most affected by them, it became apparent that things were quickly grinding to a halt.

As it turned out, it took this family about four years of working on coming up with a workable plan to straighten things out.

The 4-Year Process Wrapped Up in 6 Months

During the ensuing discussion, someone mentioned that the reverse might have been an easier road to take.

When asked what they meant, the reply was, “Well, what if the family had instead taken four years to discuss and negotiate the kind of scenario that would work for everyone.”

“Then, they could have easily wrapped up the legal work in less than 6 months!”

It was only later that it dawned on me that this was essentially what Fowler had been referring to when he spoke about “Pre-Mediating” the plans.

My Bias Versus What Typically Happens

I have a strong preference for supporting families in the long process of sorting out what they want and what will actually work, ideally before they make commitments in writing with legal consequences.

However, I also know that this isn’t how things typically play out.

Family leaders, unsure of exactly how to proceed, consult with professionals who are only too happy to make suggestions based on work they’ve done for others, whose circumstances likely resemble those of this family, but also differ in important ways.

The family leaders, wanting to trust the experts, hoping for something quick and simple, and not knowing any better, usually just go along.

And that’s where you get it done in six months, only to need four years to fix it.

The Same Story, Over and Over Again

As I wrote the lines above, I flashed back to another blog I wrote about this, Successful Planning, Who Should Be Involved.

The money quote from that one, which I wrote back in 2015, is:

    “Plans that are about us, but don’t include us, are not for us”.

If it seems like I’m repeating myself, I guess I probably am. The good news, I supposed, is that when I wrote these previous posts 7 and 8 years ago, the battle seemed to be more “uphill”.

It still is, for sure, but hopefully less steep in 2022.