Silence Kills Business Families

Posted on December 14, 2015 by Chris Reichert

“Silence kills business families"

Last month Blackwood collaborated with Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP to host a private event featuring Tom Deans, New York Times bestselling author of Every Family’s Business and Willing Wisdom.  Tom spoke for 90 minutes on the importance of open, honest, and transparent communication within a family. Specifically, Tom Deans challenges you to start communicating now so that you are passing on not just possessions, but “something far more valuable to your beneficiaries- ideals and values.”

Did you know that 4 American presidents died without a Will? What makes it even more interesting is that 2 of them were lawyers!! Why does this happen?

The topic of Wills and estate planning is easy to avoid since it can be awkward and emotionally volatile for family members to raise. Elders may avoid the topic because they feel they are “invincible” and “still have lots of time left" or because they have amassed wealth that they aren’t sure how to discuss, or perhaps they have accumulated assets that are difficult to divide equally among their children.  On the other side, younger generations don’t want to raise the topic out of fear they will be perceived to be expecting something.  Avoidance of this topic leads to silence, and silence is where misunderstandings grow and fester. Silence can destroy families.

 Why plan WITH your family as opposed to FOR your family?

Tom Deans explains that planning WITH your family gives loved ones the opportunity to learn about the things that are most important to you and gives you the opportunity to learn about the things that are important to them.  These open and honest conversations are where aspirations are shared, along with concerns family members might have. For example, “I want to be sure that _____ never happens in our family after I’m gone.”

Planning with your family through open and honest conversations also manages expectations regarding “fair vs. equal” by helping family members to understand not only what they can expect to receive, but more importantly the rational regarding why they will receive certain assets and won’t receive others. For example, shares in a business they may or may not have played a role in building.

Planning with your family also involves discussing the purpose you hope your wealth will serve for future generations of your family and the rationale for why you might structure your Will so it treats each of your children fairly, as opposed to equally.

Planning with your family ensures they understand and support any desires you have to leave a legacy to your community through charity or other philanthropic avenues.

As you can tell, these can be difficult conversations to kick-start, but the sooner you start the process, the easier and deeper each subsequent conversation becomes.  The most important part is to engage in these conversations openly so that everyone in the family can discuss and understand your views while you are alive.  Families that discuss these types of topics are able to reach consensus and avoid the risk of grudges being harboured after you’re gone.

Where should I start?

Willing Wisdom contains 7 great conversation starters to help you begin these important conversations with your family:

1. What word best describes our family.  Explain the word you selected.

2. Describe how your parents acquired their wealth. Share a memory about something your parents did to provide for you that left a lasting memory.

3. How would an inheritance advance your dreams for yourself, your family, and your community?

4. In the context of planning for the division of your assets, does fair mean fair or does fair mean equal?  Who are you planning to leave your wealth to and will you share a copy of your Will with me?

5. Describe how your parents divided their assets and when you first learned of the contents in their Will.  What would you do the same and what would you do differently?

6. Describe the role you play or played in the final care of your parents.  Can you name one thing that was/is being done well and one thing you would change or wish you could have done differently?

7. Describe in detail your last wishes.

Where should these conversations take place?

Whether the conversations occur around a boardroom table, a dinner table, or a campfire near the lake, the answers each family member has might surprise you. However and whenever this form of open and honest communication takes place, it will build deeper relationships and is the critical first step towards transparent planning that everyone in the family can get behind and support.