Why Succession Planning Fails…… Despite Mostly Good Intentions

We’re all familiar with expressions like “failing to plan is planning to fail”, which might lead one to believe that families experience poor outcomes because they never got around to planning anything.

While there certainly are plenty of those examples one could point to, that view is actually pretty simplistic, because there are in fact many professionals who are kept quite busy working with and for families in these important endeavours.

Yet despite the amount of time and expense that goes into these activities, the results are often sub-optimal.

This week I want to dig into some of the main reasons that continues to be the case.

“We’ve Already Done It – It’s Taken Care of”

For people like me who toil in the world of the “family circle”, where the relationships and human capital are key success factors, a common refrain we get when we speak to people from family enterprises about succession planning is “Oh, we’ve already done it; It’s done!”.

These well-meaning family members truly believe that because they’ve taken some structural and legal steps to address legal ownership and tax issues, that there’s no more work left to be done.

And because that work itself was long, costly, boring, and took them away from other important activities, the last thing they want is to revisit any part of it.

The professional advisors they worked with to get that important stuff done likely also led them to believe that they were now finished with this “unpleasant” work.

Making Plans for People Without Involving Them

So we’ve seen that thinking the work is all done is a common pitfall, but it’s often combined with an ever bigger misstep, which is not having all the right people at the table from the outset.

See: “Continuity Planning: Who’s at the Table?”

I know that this can sound like heresy to some, but when you’re making plans that will directly affect the next generation of your family, and in a very significant way, after all, it’s kind of crazy to me that so much of this work is being done without even so much as a discussion with those whom it will affect the most.

I wish that these situations could be the exceptions, but they are very much the rule.

Having the professional advisors of the parents draw up all the plans and agreements for the rising generation without even asking them what they want (or do not want) or telling them what they can expect, is very much the tail wagging the proverbial dog

But maybe that’s just me.

Not Keeping Everyone Involved as Things Evolve

Another reason that succession planning fails is again a variation of those noted above. This is where some plans were made, long ago, and even though many things have changed and evolved, those old plans remain on the shelf and are deemed “still good enough for now”.

Revisiting what was done way back then sounds like it makes sense, but we’ve got more important things to do now, and we will get to updating those plans when we get around to it. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

The business enterprise whose succession you planned for years ago is quite likely a very different business today.

Even more importantly, those heirs to whom you were leaving things when they were teenagers have also (hopefully!) evolved and grown into much more prepared adults, and their abilities, potential roles and expectations have also surely changed.

People & Relationships, Not Structures & Legal Documents

If you’ve noticed, there is a thread that runs through the problems I’ve outlined above, and that’s the fact that structures and legal documents, although important components of succession planning, are insufficient by themselves.

The people and the relationships between them, are a far bigger part of the picture, and always will be.

I know the subject can be delicate and having conversations about it can seem scary, and so most people want to avoid them.

But not having the discussions is even scarier. Making assumptions about your offspring and how they’ll handle what you leave them is fraught with potential traps and situations that can be avoided.

Family leaders who’ve achieved a lot of success expect to leave some sort of legacy, but too often they forget that this involves the people more than the financial wealth.

See Is Your Continuity PAL in Danger?

Notice We Don’t Start with “Go”

The “Blog Ideas” folder of my inbox is typically pretty current, as things I put there are either written about or else discarded within a few months of their arrival there.

This week I’m finally getting to one that stands out due to the dust it has gathered for over a year now.

A friend and colleague, Michael Palumbos, who I got to know through the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI) had sent out an email to many of our brethren in March ’21, with “Research Question” as his subject line.

He was polling a few dozen people who work with families on the “three things to do as a foundation” when beginning to work with them as a “family business coach”, as he labelled us.

I sent my ideas to him, he collated over 20 responses from colleagues, and he shared his distillation with us all as a thank you.

I don’t know why it’s taken me a year to write about this.

And the “Top 3” Is:

I’ve paraphrased the exchange between Michael and our PPI colleagues above.

Below is his version of what the responses boiled down to, verbatim:

  • Determine if the family is ready and willing to do the work.
  • Assess where the family is today and where they’d like to go.
  • Utilize family meetings to increase unity and education

Allow me to share my thinking around these three key pillars of working with any family.

1. Start with the Foundation – Are We Ready?

This seems pretty benign and simple on its surface. I can assure you that it’s anything but.

Some families will never be ready to do the work necessary to try to increase the chances of having a successful intergenerational transition.

One of the trickiest parts stems from the simple fact that a family isn’t one unitary entity, but a system composed of a number of different individuals.

Just getting to the starting blocks of working with a family on such a long-term project can be an accomplishment in itself.

The idea of hiring an outside person to work with the family can be scary for many, and is often a bridge too far.

It can be helpful if the person in the family who reaches out for assistance is from the current leading generation, but that’s not a guarantee that it will work either.


2. Where Are We, Where Do We Wanna Go

Once a family does agree to get started, because they believe they’re ready, it’s important to take the time to evaluate where they are, how they got there, and where they are hoping to go together.

When laying out the plan for an upcoming generational transition of leadership and ownership of family assets, those family members who are part of the system are all different, both in terms of their abilities and their wants and needs.

That’s why having an unrelated person there to help guide them and lead their discussions is key. 

Let’s just say that when I tell “Dad” something he might not want to hear, he will at least hear it better than if it came from one of his offspring. And that works with other generations too.

In terms of where the family wants to go, some have a multi-generational view, while others just want to get through the next transition, and either of those can work.

It’s usually simpler and easier to get consensus for the shorter timeframe projects.


3. Initiating a Series of Regular Family Meetings

Assuming that the family is ready and that they’ve done some preliminary work to have an idea of where they’re hoping to go together, the way to actually make it happen is centered on instituting regular family meetings.

These can be once a year, quarterly, or something in between. It might make sense to have them in quick succession when starting out and then changing the calendar later.

But you need to create a repeating process where family members will come together to discuss how the family is going to govern itself as they all relate to the business or the assets that they own together.

You need to schedule the next meeting before everyone leaves, and you need to know who’s expected to do what in the interim.

It’s not as easy as it sounds, which is why so few families actually make it work.

Very Important Words for Families to Understand

This week I’ll cover some ground that will feel quite familiar to regular readers, but will combine some elements in new ways.

I often spend time considering the specific words we use when we talk about ideas around working with families, and there will be some of that too.

And of course, the genesis of the idea for this blog will also be part of the scene too, because this week it comes from some folks I consider both friends and mentors.

Let’s get on with the show.

Teaching Family Governance to Advisors

I’ve been a proud member of the faculty of the Family Firm Institute for a few years now, where I was brought in as one of the instructors for the course on Family Governance. It’s something close to my heart and has long been the subject of my writings here.

When I joined the faculty, there were already some great folks teaching the many courses that are part of FFI’s Global Education Network (GEN) program.

Included among them are Kirby Rosplock and Dennis Jaffe, both of whom taught me when I was a student, and whose industry experience cast way longer shadows than mine.

It truly has been a humbling honour to work with them, especially as we were recently tasked with updating the course materials

It was during one of those meetings that the line from the title of this post was uttered, and then repeated.

That’s when I knew this would become a blog post.

An Evolving Vocabulary and Using the Right Words

The members of FFI are mostly advisors who work with enterprising families, and they enroll in the GEN program to learn from others, so using the right terminology is part of the deal.

Personally, I’ve tried to shy away from using the term “succession”, in favour of “continuity”, but most people still use succession, especially with the popularity of the TV series Succession these days.

So when Kirby blurted out “Succession without governance equals chaos”, who was I to debate her words?

And then later when Dennis reprised her words, verbatim, that was it, I had my money quote.

It does kind of summarize a lot, especially in only five words.

So What Do We Mean by Governance?

I’ve long known that the term “governance”, especially when related to a family, can elicit groans, skepticism, and a general “allergic reaction” from many, if not most.

I normally try to soften things by adding that family governance essentially boils down to 3 questions:

  • How are we going to make decisions together?
  • How are we going to communicate?
  • How are we going to solve problems together?

I still talk about those, but today I want to add some meat to those, because they sound just a bit too simple and theoretical when you get right down to it.

Those “how” questions lead to a need for further clarification, around other questions that start with “who”, “when”, and “where” that typically get lost in the shuffle until it comes time to implement the governance.

What About the Chaos, and How Do You Avoid It?

Now the idea that “chaos” results from ignoring governance as an intergenerational succession approaches is one that some may doubt.

Well, if you want to tempt fate, “stick around and find out”, to borrow from a recent meme (a cleaner version of FAFO – see Urban Dictionary).

The basic questions posed above won’t answer themselves, and are best discussed:

  • well in advance of any issues, 
  • in as collegial an environment as possible, and 
  • with as many members of both generations as you are able to involve

Regular, Repeating Meetings to Discuss and Agree

The secret, if there is one, is to begin having a series of regular meetings, where, slowly but surely, you begin to learn to work together to find the answers to those questions.

You can’t be in a hurry to finish, because you will never finish. You’re playing the infinite game, it’s all journey, with no destination.

This can be hard for many to grasp, but that attitude is necessary to develop, and it can be contagious.

There won’t likely be any single memorable meeting, just many small decisions, made together, over time, that’ll enable your family to succeed with your succession, without the chaos.

Because succession without governance does equal chaos.

The Order is So Important

This week we’ll be looking at some ideas that are a bit different from those I’ve been sharing lately, so please join me as I “freestyle” a bit, while still trying to keep it real, too.

As is sometimes the case here, there’s kind of a convoluted story to how I got here, and I’m so glad to have a place to share these musings with others who appreciate my missives.

Contrasting a couple of words that exhibit some similarities is nothing new here (see On Observing and Absorbing in Enterprising Families and SFTU Versus STFU) for a couple of examples.

This week, we’re going to deconstruct “striving” and “thriving” to see what we can learn.

My first conclusion, which I hint at in the title, is that doing them in the right order is key. 

A second take-away involves the fact that family members from different generations should probably experience them at different times.

What Does It Mean to Strive?

Let’s start by looking at the meaning of the verb “to strive”. 

Here are some Google results I like:

  • make great efforts to achieve or obtain something
  • struggle or fight vigorously.

I like those because the words “effort”, “obtain” and “struggle” really resonate with me when I think about striving.

They feel to me like they are all about what you put into something.

What Does It Mean to Thrive?

Now let’s move over to the verb “to thrive”. 

Here’s some of what Google comes back with:

  • grow or develop well or vigorously.
  • prosper; flourish.

Now when I look at words like “grow”, “develop” and “prosper”, what I see are the results of some of those same efforts that one has “put into”.

This exercise has already borne fruit for me, as the “input vs. result of the input” angle is an unexpected bonus for me.

Now let me get to the convoluted story to set up the bigger picture for enterprising families.

Beginning with the End in Mind

With a tip of the cap to Stephen Covey, let’s begin with the end in mind, which is how this topic landed in my lap to begin with.

I was on a Zoom call where a recently retired executive was talking about her exit from her prominent role in her organisation, and she smiled as she shared how it was all going.

“It feels like I’m thriving without striving”, she related.

I quickly jotted those words down, believing that that would be the blog post subject.

Lately I keep hearing about the fact that everyone in my field talks about preparing the rising generation of the family, while the senior, “NowGen”, who are expected to exit, aren’t considered enough.

“I’ll write about how important it is to find opportunities for them to thrive without striving”, was my idea.

Well, not so fast.

Where Else Does This Apply? (Everywhere!)

As I considered that after having strived for so many years during one’s career, later on it would be good to simply thrive, based upon all the hard work one had already put in, I then thought about the entry, as opposed to the exit.

Imagine my “A-Ha Moment” when I realized that sometimes, especially in very successful families, the rising generation show up and are already thriving thanks to the family’s success, while many of them have not been forced to strive for themselves.

Thriving without having strived seems like a bit of a disconnect.

If you know anything about the challenges that such families face, you will instantly recognize how relevant this can be.

Stumbling Upon a Fundamental Truism

Success means more when it is connected to one’s own struggles to achieve it. 

This reminded me of one of my favourite Zig Ziglar sayings about putting in the hard work early in your career:

If, early on, you do:                   what you’re supposed to do 

                                                      when you’re supposed to do it, 

Later, you’ll be able to do:       what you want to do 

                                                      when you want to do it.

In a family enterprise, there is a time for striving, which hopefully leads to thriving. There can then be many years of striving and thriving at the same time.

Eventually, the leaders become elders and can continue to thrive, but without necessarily having to strive as much anymore.

After all, there are younger family members who are there for that, and presumably they’ve been well groomed for that.

Plenty of Reasons to Make Such a Move

What used to be an obscure corner of the world of wealthy families has begun to go more mainstream over the past decade or so.

Whereas the term “family office” has existed for a long time, it used to elicit raised eyebrows of confusion, which nowadays have given way to nodding heads instead.

In many cases the confusion remains, but more people have heard the term and hence think that they know what someone is referring to when they hear it used.

Let’s dive in and look more deeply at this, from the perspective of the family who should be at the center of any family office, rather than the view of the professionals who work for such enterprises.

“If You’ve Seen One Family Office….”

Confusion about the family office space is compounded by the fact that no two family offices are alike, nor should they be.

They exist to serve a family, and every family is different and therefore has different needs, plus these needs evolve and change over time, meaning that they’re in a regular state of flux (or at least they should be).

This topic could take up an entire book (and it has) and I’m trying to hit a sliver of it in a blog post, so let’s get to the question in the title, “Why would a family even consider setting up a family office?”

On Inflection Points, Evolution, and Leadership

I’ve written on this subject before, notably in Putting the Family in the Family Office, for my site, as well as for other websites, for example, Don’t Forget the Family at the Family Office.

For a family to suddenly decide it needs a family office, there’s usually a catalyst, and the most frequent one is a liquidity event. 

For readers unfamiliar with that term, think about a family that owns a business worth $100 million one day, but then sells it and suddenly has $100 million of “liquid assets” instead.

Such a family suddenly has a new set of priorities and needs, and a family office can be the ideal way to address those.

Other families create a family office when they reach various inflection points as they evolve, often when there’s new leadership in the family, thanks to a generational transition.

But let’s never forget that the family’s needs should be driving everything (although this is often the exception rather than the rule).

After the Why – When, Where, Who and How

The Why and the When are typically connected, as the event kicks things into motion, bringing up other questions.

I laugh when I see articles about the best places in the world to set up a family office, focused on jurisdictions that are advantageous for tax and investment reasons.

Regular readers know my penchant for focusing on the family’s human capital over its financial capital.

The Where may become a factor as things evolve, but is rarely a huge concern at inception, unless there are billions of dollars involved.

The main questions I suggest families focus on are all about Who and How.

Don’t Forget the Family!

I’m a firm believer in having some family members involved at some level, because the family office will be responsible for a huge amount of the family’s net worth, and like any family business, the owners can and should play an important role.

If no family member is qualified to play the top investment role or handle other important executive functions, it becomes paramount for someone from the family to at least become quite conversant and comfortable with these subjects.

There’s certainly at least an oversight role that needs to remain in the hands of competent family members.

One Person at a Time: Grow with the Flow

One of the most important parts of the How is the question of timing.

I almost always advocate for a “go slow” approach, because you really want to get the culture right.

Hiring a person and making sure they’re the right fit takes time, and when you set up a family office, you’re truly playing the long game.

You need to find competent people to fill the roles that you can’t handle within the family.

When you add more people, you want to make sure they all fit well together too, and that’s not something to rush through either.

And since they’ll all be serving your family, you’ll want more than one family member involved in the selection process too, maybe several.

Not Every Family Needs “Full Service”

The past couple of weeks we’ve been looking at “connecting” with members of client families and then matching the solutions we have to these families.

All this made me consider one of the biggest questions that people often have for me when they learn about the kind of work I do.

The questions come in a variety of forms, but generally boil down to this: “Who ARE these families that actually do all of this governance stuff?”, along with “where do you find them?”.

If you stopped 100 random people on the street, you likely wouldn’t meet any people from such families, and very few would even have a personal connection to one.

However, if you shared the names of families who continually work on their governance, those names would be recognizable to most.

Are We “Exceptional”; Do We Even Want to Be?

Not every family is destined to be exceptional, and many don’t envision themselves as such either. 

For some families, just imagining themselves in this way is actually unnatural and even abhorrent.

Too often, though, professionals who serve families who’ve achieved a certain level of wealth creation begin to make assumptions about what these families should be doing to preserve that wealth.

Well crafted strategies to minimize taxes and keep financial wealth protected have become the go-to starting point for such families, because a whole industry of professionals exists to take care of these issues.

I’m always wary of situations where the tail ends up wagging the proverbial dog, and for me the “dog” is the family.

I prefer to help the family figure out what makes it exceptional and then plan for ways to grow and preserve that.

Once the family has set those priorities, by all means then let’s get the professionals involved to figure out the best strategies to employ to help accomplish that.

Many Varieties and Versions, and Ways to Make Progress

Some families will have an operating business that they wish to preserve, and finding ways to ensure that it continues to evolve and thrive with the economy, while still being owned by the family, might be their focus.

Others may have had a liquidity event, and are now searching for new opportunities, either through direct investing or philanthropy, or both, and incorporating the rising generation of their family into those projects will take center stage.

Still others may be searching for ways to recreate the entrepreneurial spirit and create a “family bank” that will allow their offspring and all of their human capital to thrive in their own ways.

There are so many possibilities, and the path chosen will vary from one family to the next.

No Two the Same = All ARE Exceptional

And because no two families are the same, they ‘re each potentially exceptional in their own right.

Too often, as advisors, we want to show how smart we are and we rush to get the family moving on our pet project for them, and that where we may be doing them a disservice, hurrying them into action.

A family is a system of many moving parts, and it takes time to engage all of those people properly, to the point where they even understand and believe that there may be a “family project” that will arise from the financial resources that have been created, by previous generation(s) of their family.

Vision, Mission, and Values Work

Some colleagues reading this will nod their heads and agree that helping the family identify its values and then figure out a vision and mission are great first steps, and in many ways I agree with them.

I’m advocating for more basic connection work in advance of those specific projects, which then become more clear with time. 

Discovery work with such families can take months before recognizing where we should actually begin to co-create a family project together.

Yes, the values need to be surfaced at some point, typically early on. But then the mission and vision need to be carefully considered in the context of where the family is now, and what its capacity is to undertake its first steps together in new ways.

An Iterative Process, More Journey than Destination

We’re talking about a family journey over the coming decades together, so there should be no rush to complete the plan in days or weeks.

It should be an iterative process; more about a journey than a destination.

Plenty of Sophisticated Sellers Out There

The family enterprise world continues to evolve and mature, and it feels like the supply side is way ahead of the demand side in most cases, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

There really is no single reason for this, nor anyone at whom we need to point the finger of blame, it just seems to be that way.

With time and a bit of effort, and a bit more evolution and focus on what’s right for each particular family client, this is already beginning to change, albeit ever so slowly.

Let’s jump in and look at the problem I’ve dubbed “solutions in search of families”.

The “I Have a Hammer” Syndrome

The simplest version of the issue is that many solution providers are pretty much a “one-trick pony”.

If I go to the barber shop and ask them if I need a haircut, unless I got one there the day before, I can already guess the answer I’ll get.

Likewise, if a family leader who knows that they need to do “something” goes to see a lawyer, they’ll be offered a legal solution; if they start with an accountant, they’ll be offered an accounting solution, and so on.

For the simplest family cases, this is all “plenty good enough”.

For families with more complex situations, though, this is where we can end up with the tail wagging the proverbial dog.

Interdisciplinary Work Towards Custom Solutions

I have long been a fan of families working with a variety of different specialist experts in order to come up with a custom solution for their particular needs.

While it might seem expensive to involve so many highly compensated experts in such planning, the synergies the family gets almost always far outweigh the additional time and cost they absorb on the front end.

The field of such experts continues to evolve in this direction, as professionals learn to work together in the best interests of the families they serve.

As the pendulum continues to swing in this direction, I recently had lunch with a colleague, after which I had a bit of an “A-Ha” moment.

And it had little to do with the fact that I had just eaten the most expensive soup I’ve ever had. (Yes, it was delicious.)

Everything Is Available; Everything is Affordable

I’d been invited to lunch by a colleague from a large multi-family office (MFO) to discuss ways that I might be a resource to them and to the families they serve.

My original title for this post was “Beware Solutions in Search of Families”, because I had the “I have a hammer, so everything looks like a nail” idea in my head.

But the lunch with my MFO friend revealed another version of the challenge, so I rejigged the title to “Matching Solutions to Each Client Family”, because our discussion revealed a different challenge.

I heard about clients who could afford any and every possible “solution”, but for whom the “problem” to be solved had yet to be clearly identified.

I also heard about a firm that was positioned to be the resource to supply and/or coordinate each solution as needed, but, despite having their shelves fully stocked with great stuff, felt at a loss to figure out where to begin.

Crawl Before You Walk, Walk Before You Run

It became clear to me as I digested my soup and my seabass that both the supply side and the demand side of this equation, despite having met and decided that they were a good fit, were still at a bit of a loss to figure out the first steps.

Admittedly, I was hearing about some relatively new potential clients of this MFO, which for me is always the most interesting time, because there’s so much to discover.

My mind works on a much slower timeframe than most (thanks, Dad).

My advice was to proceed slowly, one step at a time.

You want to run with it, but you should walk first, and perhaps even crawl before that.

Taking Time to Properly Connect, First

If this has a familiar ring to something you read here recently, kudos for paying close attention.

Just last week, in Relationships Support Structure, What Supports Relationships, I wrote:


            “If you are privileged to work with families,

      and you want to solidify your relationships with them,

             it is well worth spending time and effort 

                on your deeper connection with them.”


I recognize that many advisors don’t feel like they have that luxury of time to build this connection.

My suggestion is to find the time, because it’s usually worth it.

You Need to Look Beneath the Surface

Much of the work that is done to preserve wealth so that it can be transitioned to subsequent generations of a family involves creating complex structures.

These structures, which are often put in place by highly compensated experts with years of training, are frequently a necessary component of such successful transitions; they are rarely, if ever, sufficient, in and of themselves.

There are plenty of other blogs on this site that I’ve written over the years that make this point, so that aspect of this week’s post is not new.

Here’s arecent example that comes to mind: When Structural Solutions Aren’t Sufficient.

In order for the structures to properly do the work that they’re designed to do, it is necessary for the right human relationships to be in place to support them.

The structures alone will not cut it, at least not in the long run. 

Please note, this is the hill upon which I am prepared to die, for the record.


The 2014 Tent Analogy

Years ago I came up with an analogy to reinforce the notion that there’s often something that’s not easily seen that helps support a visible and useful structure, and I wrote about it here: Creating the Family Business Legacy You Want.

That was admittedly an ambitious title for a blog about a tent, but I think it shows how my writing has evolved!

The crux of it was that we all see the shell of a tent, which is what provides shelter when camping, but without the poles, ropes, and pegs, the shell alone is actually pretty useless.


So What, In Turn, Supports the Relationships?

So I told you earlier what was not new, and we just reviewed the structure part and how it must be supported by the family relationships, so now let’s move on to what is new this week.

The question of the week this time is, what supports the relationships?

Apologies to those for whom this is a no-brainer, but I had an “A-Ha moment” about this, so I assume there might be one for some readers too.

                    In order to be strong enough to do the work

                      they’re supposed to do, the relationships 

                         need to be supported by connection.

The A-Ha moment, for those who want to actually hear it, can be heard in this podcast I hosted last year: Let’s Talk Family Enterprise – Episode 26: Advice That Sticks

If you go to the “20:39” mark (or -12:24), my “Wow” is actually audible. (Thanks to Dr. Moira Somers for leading me there)


Connection – The Prerequisite to Being Heard

So if the secret to sustainable relationships is connection, there are a few different ways we can look at this.

Let’s start with being heard, i.e. making sure that what you want others to know about you is actually coming through all the way to what they hear, and perhaps more importantly, how they hear it.

It feels to me like this has a lot to do with being authentic and perhaps more than just a little bit vulnerable.

Somehow, when you let that side of you come through, what you say will likely be “felt” and not just heard.


Connection – The Prerequisite to Hearing Others

But what about the other side of this equation, the one about hearing others, where does connection come into play?

Here curiosity and empathy are key, and the first thing to realize is that not everyone scores high on these elements.

As a listener, you need to be able to take the time to truly listen to people to feel what they are relating to you, not as someone who has a solution to sell them, but as someone who is curious about them, and who’s trying to feel what they’re feeling.

Please resist the temptation to offer your pithy, simplistic solutions that you’ve rehearsed for this occasion.


Connection: A Two-Way Street

As we’ve just seen, the idea of connection isn’t a one-way street, but a two-way, back and forth, with a yin and a yang.

If you are privileged to work with families, and you want to solidify your relationships with them, it is well worth spending time and effort on your deeper connection with them.

And I hope that at least some of you noted the other nuance here, which is that you do not have “a connection” with a family, but as many connections as there are members of the family!

So you probably have lots of work to do.

Striving for the “All AND Nothing” Inheritance

So Much Better Than “All OR Nothing”

I’ve written around 500 blogs over the past decade, and sometimes I convince myself that I’ve shared all the gems I’ve ever heard, somewhere along the way.

And sometimes I find out I’ve missed some.

This past week, I was invited to be a guest on a podcast, and the host asked me for three to five things that all parents strive for as they imagine the inheritance they will leave.

I quickly recalled a nice blog post that dealt with three of them, The “Family HUG” We’re All Looking For, and then began to wonder which two others I could suggest as a good complement to those.

“Oh, I know”, I thought to myself, “let me find that blog about David York’s ‘All or Nothing’ concept!”.

As you may’ve guessed, I realized that I’ve yet to write that one, even though this nugget goes back a couple of years for me.

So, belatedly, here we go.

A Familiar Resource Once Again

Maybe it’s because I’ve shared York’s wisdom before, notably here: Great Expectations in Enterprising Families and Family Wealth Dynamite: One Stick or Two?, among others.

The “One or Stick Two” part of the dynamite one was probably what fooled me into thinking I’d already shared this week’s take-home message here.

Nevertheless, when you know of a thought leader like York, who shares good stuff regularly (and not just the same stuff over and over again), you know that you have someone worth paying continued attention to.

Just make sure you credit them for their ideas, and don’t try to claim them as your own; because this is a relatively small world, .

So, after all this build-up, I must be building up to something worthwhile, right?

They Can Handle It All

The first half of York’s two-part inheritance scenario is familiar to many.

Parents who have accumulated significant wealth will often worry about the capacity of their heirs to “handle” everything that they might possibly inherit.

As I wrote here, in Who Messes Up What, Or What Ruins Whom, they don’t want their offspring to screw up the wealth, and they also don’t want the wealth to screw up their family members.

Many professionals who advise such families have heard these concerns ad nauseam, to the point where an entire industry has sprung up to provide hundreds of structural “solutions” to this dilemma.

However, according to York (and other enlightened advisors), these parents should be working towards making sure that they have raised their offspring to be able to handle all of their wealth.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that after you’re gone, the wealth you leave your heirs will be well taken care of, because you raised them to be capable stewards?

Sounds Great. Okay, What’s Part 2?

And, if you do prepare your offspring to be able to handle the wealth that you plan to leave them, there’s actually an important side effect.

Chances are good that those who’ve been raised this way would actually also do just fine if ever you decided to leave them nothing.

That’s the second part of this, in case you hadn’t already guessed it.

Everyone thinks wealth is all about the money, but it’s really all about the people. Wealth comes and goes, sometimes remarkably quickly, in families.

The difference is rarely about the size of the pile, it’s more about the people entrusted to look after it.

Preparing Them for Either Scenario Is the Same

What if you did leave them nothing?

Let’s be clear, this is not a suggestion that you not leave anything to your heirs, that’s not it at all.

People do that for various reasons, and some famous ultra-wealthy people have publicly stated their plans to leave modest sums to their progeny. That’s a whole other discussion, perhaps for another post.

My point is that raising your offspring to be self-sufficient and independent is something everyone should strive for, regardless of how much financial wealth is at stake.

If they’re prepared to receive nothing, they’ll also likely be prepared to handle everything.

Which One Should You Aim For?

This is a bit of a “chicken and egg” question, which makes it intriguing.

If you have significant wealth, being concerned that it’ll be too much to handle is normal, so parents sometimes resort to warning their children that they’ll get nothing.

Preparing them for nothing AND for everything will probably work out better.

Either that or preparing them for everything AND nothing.

Go for AND, not OR.