I’ve written at least a handful of blog posts over the past couple of years with the word “legacy” in their title.

In the coming years, I will likely write a few more, because it’s a subject near and dear to my heart, and I’m guessing that I’m not alone.

Today’s post will cover some of the important elements that go into a legacy, using nature as an inspiration.

Planting your Family Legacy

One Definition of Legacy

When we talk about legacy related to family wealth, we often assume that everyone has the same ideas in mind when they hear that word, “legacy”.

But for the heck of it, I just Googled the word to locate a “neutral” definition, and this came up:

“Something that happens or exists as a result
of things that happened at an earlier time”

Given both the title of this post and the photo I chose to accompany it, I think this definition is spot on.

If you want to sit in the shade, the fact that Grandpa planted a tree can certainly help!


Is Planting Sufficient?

 We can all agree that planting the tree is a pretty big part of the equation, and that without that effort, there would be no tree.

But maybe a tree isn’t the best example here.  When you think about it, the sapling in the photo is actually being transplanted to grow in that particular chosen place.

If they didn’t plant it there, it would have likely grown in its original location.  Aren’t the woods full of trees that just grew there on their own?

Likewise, there is a lot of wealth in the world too, and fortunes are made and lost all the time.

Legacies come and legacies go.

Planting your Family Legacy

How Does your Garden Grow?

Perhaps a better metaphor is a garden or a farmer’s field.

There are more analogies we can use here because there are a lot more steps involved.

You need to till the soil, you need to plant the crops, there’s fertilizer that can help a lot, and you need to water regularly too.

Removing weeds, making sure that the crops are not infested my bugs or disease, and then let us not forget the harvesting.

And then do we eat the whole crop, or do we save some for next year’s seeding?


So Many Metaphors, So Little Time

I feel like the metaphors here are endless, and I hope that you’ve found at least one that is new and useful to you.

But I want to get to a couple of other keys points here.

What can we learn from the plant world that we can apply to the area of family legacy?


Intention and Attention

Well, going back to the definition I found, the “things that happened at an earlier time” will usually include some serious intention.

Unless the wealth was won in a lottery, there was likely a lot of intentional hard work and risk-taking involved.

The original spark was also surely followed by some diligent and intentional efforts to maintain, preserve, and grow the family’s wealth over a sustained period of time.

In addition to the intention, there is also a constant need to pay attention to make sure that everything that was built up and accumulated is carefully tended to and watched over.

Planting your Family Legacy

People Power

Family wealth is often “created” by the hard work, talent, genius, risk-taking, and luck of one individual.

That person can often take on a superhuman aura.

But even when the pile of financial wealth is enormous, they can’t keep it going forever all by themselves.

There will eventually need to be other people involved in perpetuating the wealth, turning it into their legacy.


People + Assets = Legacy

As I wrote last year in “Is your Continuity Planning “PAL” in Danger?” assets alone will not ensure anyone’s legacy.

Of course, if most of the wealth is held inside a business and great people are hired to manage it as a corporate entity, the business legacy can continue long past the founder’s departure.

My bias is towards a Family Legacy, ensuring that the family be the ones who maintain and grow it into the future.


Family Legacy Versus Business Legacy

This bias is pretty clear when you to watch this video blog I recorded: What is your True Family Legacy.

Who will lovingly tend your garden after you’re gone?

This past week was a little out of the ordinary for me as I took a quick trip to my cottage to get away and clear my head. My intention was to rest and plan, but instead it turned out that I was pretty productive.

I’m not sure if that makes it a successful week then, but as someone pointed out to me, sometimes a change is as good as a rest.

Good Fences = Good Neighbours

One item on my agenda during my visit to the cottage was to deal with a part of our property on which there is a building that’s in need of a lot of work. After initially considering demolishing it or carting it away, we are looking at salvaging it instead.

A neighbour from two doors down asked if he could purchase it and fix it up to rent to his sister who’s moving to the area.

After discussing it with him, I went to see the local land surveyor who had drawn up the plans a few years ago.

Sidebar: As a fan of languages, I’ll point out that the French term for Land Surveyor is “Arpenteur Geomètre”. An “arpent” is an acre, so that makes the profession one of “Acreage Geometrist” as a rough translation.

Warring Neighbours

While making small talk with the man, he noted that he was being more selective in choosing the jobs he’s taking on at this stage of his career, sticking to the “easy ones”.

It turned out that the degree of difficulty he was referring to has zero to do with the complexity of the land, and everything to do with the people who own the land.

All this time I had imagined that the profession of land surveyor was all about surveying land (and acreage geometry), but as it turns out, most of the stress of the job comes from the people who own the land.

Working with drawings, driving stakes into the ground, using a transit (the scope instrument on a tripod), calculating the square footage, well, that’s the fun stuff. Standing between warring neighbours who are each arguing that the line should be “further over that way”, well, not so much.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

When my new friend related this aspect of the job, I had a bit of a flashback. A few years back when I first became a member of PPI (Purposeful Planning Institute), I joined one of their weekly thought leader calls.

I’m not 100% sure who the guest was that week, but I recall that they got their start advising families after being called in to mediate a number of sticky situations. I also recall the guest stating that he now tries to avoid those types of clients, preferring to work with good families, helping them become great.

Professional Stress

So if the land surveyor is stressed out by the fighting neighbours, and the family advisor is stressed out by family fighting, how bad must if be for the parties on the INSIDE?

What can be done to lower the level of conflict and to help everyone coexist? Neighbours are kind of “stuck” with each other, and families even more so. Their interdependence is pretty high.

Sounds like some good, clear rules and guidelines would be helpful. Once again, it comes back to governance. (See Governance Aaaah!)

Drawing the Boundaries

Right now I own the land that is being re-drawn, so it is the perfect time to figure out where the stakes will go into the ground to divide the property.

Things are calm, and I control both sides, so I can divide it as I wish, and will make it clear what I am offering to sell to my neighbour BEFORE we make the deal.

When you look at your family situation, and how things will shake out when the next generation will be in control, are all of the lines and boundaries clear and well understood?

Although we hope and would like to think that our kids will just get along, hope is not a strategy, and many families who ended up feuding used to think the same thing.

Bottom Line: Draw the lines in times of peace, don’t wait for the fighting to start, because then it is MUCH more difficult.

Family Business Consultant - Family Meeting Facilitation - Wealth manager

Writing this blog every weekend is truly cathartic for me, and I love doing it, but it offers its share of challenges too.

Last week’s post ended a bit abruptly for my liking, as I was trying to complete my point about consensus being impossible without consent, but realized that I was leaving too many important things unsaid.

Being my own editor and publisher has its advantages, though, so simply adding a “part 2 of 2” is an easy way out.

We left off looking at how getting the consent necessary for family consensus can be tricky and time consuming, but if you care about this subject at all, you probably already know that.

This week I want to add three key aspects to the ideas already put forth. They are: Offering an Informed Choice, We > Me, and Progress > Perfection.


Informed Choice

If I ask for your consent to do something minor, and you already trust me due to some prior common experience or interaction, chances are good that you will quickly go along.

If we change that from something minor to something major, it is more likely that you will take your time before consenting.

If we now add in some complexity to the equation, hesitation on your part will surely increase further.

As I wrote in 2014 in “The Importance of Offering an Informed Choice” very often families will have their lawyers draft extensive documents to formalize family structures, but the families never actually sign them. The most frequent reason noted is disagreement, but that usually masks a lack of true understanding.

If you want me to sign an agreement, you better make sure that I am comfortable doing so, and that means, first and foremost, that I acutally understand what I am agreeing to.

If I don’t feel informed or if I don’t feel like I had any choice, my reluctance will skyrocket.


We > Me

Now we are getting into a whole different area, but a doozy nonetheless.

As I covered last year in “Successful Planning: Who Should Be Involved?”, it is important for all stakeholders to have a say in matters.

Ideally, the family figures out what THEY want (They, plural!) and then “Once they know what they want to accomplish, they THEN engage the advisors to fine-tune the details of HOW they will write it up.

Somewhere along the way, everyone needs to come to the realisation that there is no “Me, or I” in family continuity, it is all about We.

If you don’t get past this one, well, good luck with building consensus.


Progress > Perfection 

This point is very much related to the conclusion of last week’s piece, in that all of the questions of building consensus for lasting inter-generational family continuity require patience, realistic expectations, and time.

As long as it is more “Two steps forward, one step back”, than “One step forward and two steps back”, consider it progress. If you are expecting perfection AND getting it done quickly, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

It is not because your advisors are no good, or not trying hard enough, this stuff is complex AND important, and we are dealing with emotional subject matter.

Now, if you feel like you are blocked, it is high time you bring someone in from the outside to help bring some perspective and an unbiased viewpoint or to kickstart things forward again.

Last fall, as I wrote in “Understanding AND Agreement, you need everyone to understand things, AND agree to them. If either is missing, there will be a problem.



Getting consensus is not easy and it takes time. People need to be fully informed of what the stakes are for them, and there needs to be an overall understanding that the WE of the family is more important that any one person’s stake.

Lastly, if you are hoping to wrap everything up quickly, you are surely fooling yourself. This is not a straightforward process, it never is. But you can get through it, and it is worth it in the end.


This week I was privileged to be invited to a lunchtime speech by David Lansky of the Family Business Consulting Group. Lansky is based in Chicago, but being a Montreal native, the good folks at Pembroke Private Wealth Management invited him to speak to their clients in Montreal and Toronto.

His presentation was entitled “Family Wealth Continuity”, and I went into it fully expecting to nod my head up and down throughout, and he did not disappoint. I am not a big “note taker” when I attend presentations, preferring to be fully attentive lest I miss something while I am jotting stuff down.

Occasionally though, someone will say something that I just have to write down, and then it almost always gets turned into a blog post.

So here is, from page 10 of his Powerpoint deck:

“What benefactors most want…they also most fear.”

Wow. I had never heard anyone put it that way. Let’s walk our way through this a bit.

People work hard to create wealth for their family. We all know many families who have done an extraordinary job of doing just that. We don’t often ask them why, because the answer seems so obvious.

They work for their wealth so that their family can be happy, have nice things, live in a safe place, go to nice places, have access to great healthcare, and lots of smiliar reasons.

They want their children to have a great life, and very often they don’t want their kids to have to work as hard as they did.

So far, so good. Somewhere along the way, though, especially in families who have done a really good job of creating more wealth than they could ever use in several lifetimes, some doubts creep in, and these parents start too worry about leaving their kids too much money

This brings back a memory of a great quote I recall from a CAFÉ Symposium a couple of years ago. Mike “Pinball” Clemons, a CFL Hall of Famer and winner of Grey Cups as both a player and head coach said, “Make sure that your family members are the beneficiaries of your family business, NOT its victims”.

Sometimes there is “too much wealth”, sometimes there are disputes between family members, sometimes both of these things are present, along with a host of other complicating factors.

Unfortunately, the fact that wealth can be a blessing or a curse will always be with us.

I have been running several questions through a model that I am working on to help explain and simplify things, and its basic elements are What, Why and How.

Allow me to try to demonstrate not only my thoughts on this important topic, but also use the three-stage model.

We start by looking at the What, i.e. what we are trying to do, in simple terms. We are trying to pass our wealth down to our children.

Now, we need to step back and ask ourselves Why we want to do this. So we talk about the things I mentioned off the top, having nice things, living in a nice place, making sure our kids don’t have to worry about money, etc.

Now comes the hard part, the How. At this point we have to look into the future and step forward and figure out all of the details around How we can do What we want to do, and have these details be aligned with the Why we want to do them.

My main point is that families can and do pass wealth down to their children without the fear that other families experience.

The major difference with the families who do that well and many others is that they are very careful with the How, and they take the time to talk with the entire family about the What, and the Why, and the How.

It is not always easy to have these critical conversations, but having them is what separates the successful families from the ones where the fear is justified.

It can be done, but it doesn’t just happen by itself. But then again, nothing important ever does.



I believe that just about every family business founder wants the same thing. In the short term, there are many ways to achieve it, but in the long run, due to human nature, not only business people, but all people, want to be remembered fondly and to have their efforts appreciated.

No, I do not have any statistical evidence, and I have not done any surveys, but if we just take a quick look at the opposite situation, how many people do you know who want to be remembered as a scoundrel and being despised? Yes, there are some, but thankfully they are in the minority.

What this blog is about in general is family business, and today’s topic is legacy. I truly believe that every family business founder wants to create a lasting positive legacy. Of course one of the traits that many of these people also have is that they believe that they are going to live forever.

Getting these people to actually commit to doing some serious succession planning, or as it is now more commonly referred to, continuity planning, is a huge problem, but we will get to that again in a future post. Today I want to talk about a pre-requisite that I believe must be present, but which is not spoken about enough.

So what is this mystery element that “must” be present? I like to call it Family Harmony. Despite their best attempts to avoid it, every single one of us will die some day, and there will be others that we will leave behind. It is up to those people we leave behind to ensure the positive legacy of the family business, and/or the business family.

This example has been used in this space before, but it was in one of my occasional French blog posts, and since I get more English readers, it is time to translate it.

Even those of us who have never been camping will surely have driven by a campsite or seen a tent structure before. In my analogy, your legacy is the tent. We can see the tent, how big it is, its shape, its colour.

The tent also provides lots of utility, in economics parlance. Shelter from the elements, safety, a place to gather and be together, often as a family.

Imagine for a moment that you only packed the shell of the tent, and you forgot the structural elements at home in the garage. Without any support to hold the tent up, without any pegs to hold it down in place, I think that this camping trip will likely be called off, or else be deemed sub-optimal. “Did we pass any motels lately?”

In my analogy, the pegs that hold the tent in place, and the support pieces that hold the structure up in a useful form, are the family harmony that you need to support the legacy that you want.

I realize that in this blog I have not proven this to be true, and those who do not want to believe it can do so if they choose. But please think about this, and share this example with others if you are a believer.

Too many business founders spend so much time making the proverbial pie bigger and bigger, without spending enough time thinking about how the pie will survive, how it will be grown or preserved after they are gone, and how those left behind can benefit from the pie for generations to come.

It does not happen by itself, and the harmony in the family is one of the biggest determinators of how well their legacy will survive.

Yes, it means that you need to discuss the fact that you will die one day. Get over it. Your legacy depends on it.


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.