Reflections

The Legacy Conversation: The Missing Gem in Wealth Planning

Inheriting WisdomChicago’s O’Hare International Airport regained its title as World’s Busiest Airport in 2014. The benefit of working in such a business hub is that it’s easy for us to meet with the executives of small companies that we invest in every day. Sometimes however, unique opportunities can be found right at home.

We recently met with Drs. Carolyn Friend and James Weiner, authors of The Legacy Conversation: the missing gem in wealth planning at their offices in a historic loft building in Chicago’s West Loop. In place of a conference room was a comfortable living area complete with couch, arm tables and chairs. Off the bat, we felt we were ready for a unique experience.

Two Sides Behind the Money: Technical and Human

Drs. Friend and Weiner have founded a distinct practice – Inheriting Wisdom – that helps families find meaningful ways to engage in what’s really happening behind the money. They understand that traditional wealth planning is often devoted to the technical or tangible side, such as money, investments and property. Yet their experiences show (and we would agree) that families also place a high value on the human or intangible side of wealth planning: family traditions, principals and beliefs make up a family’s collective wisdom.

Too often, due to its personal nature, the human side is put to the side in wealth management discussions. Inheriting Wisdom seeks to build collaborative, high-performing family enterprises. Family members are given a purpose to align goals, build out strategic plans and reach consensus in decision-making processes. They are aware that reaching consensus takes time. It is the intentionality behind this type of planning that is the crucial piece.

To develop a robust, lasting legacy, we need to bring together the human dimensions of our family wisdom with the technical items like money.

In their book, Drs. Friend and Weiner pose the question, “What is the most important thing we can bequeath to our families?” They share an anecdote about a family squabble that occurred shortly after the death of the matriarch. After the funeral, a grieving couple returned to the home to n ends in an accusation of a theft and one member declaring “this is the end of our family!” Ironically, the brooch was a piece of costume jewelry with little monetary worth. Yet it had immeasurable intangible or emotional value to each family member as it was the treasure, a source of personal memories. This type of story is universal. You may even have one in your own family. So commonly the family dragons of jealousy, envy, greed and power take control. The process provided by Inheriting Wisdom enables families to build a strategic plan to help manage these types of dragons.

Start Your Family’s Conversation

To develop a robust, lasting legacy, we need to bring together the human dimensions of our family wisdom with the technical items like money. Tangibles without intangibles (or human side) create an unbalanced legacy. Your estate plan may clearly define which tangible/technical assets will be passed on to the next generation, however will it prepare your heirs to work together as a collaborative team ready to ward off any potential “brooch episodes?”

Make a plan to start a conversation with your family members about what’s really going on behind the money.

Make a plan to start a conversation with your family members about what’s really going on behind the money to ensure discussions around legacy are productive ones. Reading The Legacy Conversation is a good start. It provides stories to spark a dialogue about which aspects of the family’s wisdom is most important to you. As a way to build off of the ideas presented in their book, Drs. Friend and Weiner also developed a deck of 52 “Conversation Starters” cards – grouped into categories of money, philanthropy, health, wisdom, traditions, and “dragons,” – each with a single question designed to get the family conversation going. Questions are precise (“What cherished possession might your family fight over?), thought provoking (“If blindfolded for a day, pick a family member as your guide.”), or more light-hearted (Have you ever found wisdom in a song’s lyrics? Name that tune.)

Creating a legacy plan that includes the human side as well as the technical aspects takes sustained effort over time. But for those who can engage the investment, it will be worth it. If you have an interest in the Inheriting Wisdom process, The Legacy Conversation book, or the Conversation Starters deck, give us a call at 312-669-1650.

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