Working Toward Family Harmony
by Arnab Dey How to Guides 28 January 2023
Wealth and values conversations can be daunting to undertake for some families. Many families avoid the conversation completely, fearing being seen as divisive or difficult.
Some don’t know where to begin. At Whittier Trust, we understand that communicating is the only way to move forward with furthering the legacy of a private family foundation.
That’s why we suggest that the first step is to take a step—any step—to start the conversation. To help families begin or advance their talks about wealth and values, we’re listing a few points from our own process:
Here Are The Top Seven Ways To Work Toward Family Harmony
1. Select the right place and time
Important dialogues like these need time and space to develop and aren’t a one-and-done type of deal. When the goal is to open up and share heartfelt values and beliefs, talking face-to-face can feel intimidating.
Instead, consider opening up the conversation by speaking side-by-side while on a walk or during a car ride, which can dramatically decrease the feeling of being an interviewee in the hot seat.
From there, you might consider holding a distraction-free weekend retreat for legacy planning or simply setting aside an hour or two during a holiday gathering, such as Thanksgiving, to further the discussion. These invaluable moments will add to the depth of family bonding and create a more collaborative forum for defining the tenets of legacy, particularly as it applies to charitable giving.
2. Give everyone the opportunity to be heard
When setting the stage for communicating about legacy, it’s important for younger generations to feel their voice is valued. This is a time to put aside family hierarchy and give everyone an opportunity to share their viewpoints. Without wholeheartedly inviting all family members to share equally in the conversation, one can’t expect involvement or buy-in from the younger generations.
3. Break the ice with a set of thought-provoking questions
Arriving at a place of thoughtful reflection will bring out the right mindset and temperament for going deeper into family values. Start out the discussion with open-ended questions that allow each individual to share their own thoughts and feelings. Despite the familial closeness, everyone might be surprised at each other’s answers.
4. Create a culture of giving back
Helping children make sense of the family’s wealth and become good stewards of what they stand to inherit is crucial. Families should be overt about how they align their wealth and values and make sure to deploy some of the family wealth to promote positive changes through charitable giving. This can be incredibly empowering for children and help them understand the importance of giving back to their community.
5. Encourage the exploration of philanthropy and charitable giving
One of the most effective ways to engage the next generation in family philanthropy is to encourage them to explore causes and organizations that align with their own values and interests.
At Whittier Trust, we often work with our clients to create a Foundation Associate Board, where young family members are given the opportunity to attend Board meetings, participate in site visits, and attend philanthropic education opportunities provided by our philanthropic advisory staff. This allows them to gain a deeper understanding of the philanthropic process and make informed decisions about charitable giving.
6. Emphasize education and financial literacy
As we’ve discussed, financial literacy is a crucial aspect of family harmony and stewardship. Families should start discussing financial matters in age-appropriate ways once children are old enough to notice disparities between their situation and that of other families.
This means not only discussing where the family wealth came from and how it is used, but also teaching children about budgeting, saving, and investing. Children also benefit from being given the opportunity to practice financial literacy through age-appropriate activities, such as receiving an allowance and learning to budget it.
Related Resource: A Simple Way to Save Your Household Budget
7. Foster resilience and independence
To ensure that a family’s wealth has a positive impact on children, it is important to focus on fostering their resilience and independence. Parents should model patience and tenacity for their children, and openly share stories about their own failures and how they bounced back from them.
Children should also be taught to own their mistakes, apologize when necessary, and take steps to avoid the same ones in the future. This way, they will learn to treat mistakes and failures as opportunities for improvement and be able to take calculated risks with confidence.
Working towards family harmony within wealthy families is a complex and ongoing process that requires intentionality, thoughtful communication, and a focus on education and financial literacy. By following the steps outlined above, families can work towards creating a culture of open communication, understanding, and generosity within their families.
Enlisting the help of an institutional wealth management advisor can also help guide these conversations through an unbiased third-party perspective and eliminate many of the concerns and considerations families face through the family office, trust, investment, and philanthropic services.