One summer, I had the crazy idea to sign up for six triathlons. I had never done a single triathlon before; I don’t know why I thought this was a good idea. Also, I barely knew how to swim. Nevertheless, I was registered, and I had my work cut out for me.
To get myself from A to Z, I needed a game plan. I started by seeking out a coach to help me learn the right type of swim stroke and breathing mechanisms. But it wasn’t just physical preparation that was required; I also had to mentally prepare. I had a strict training schedule and a nutritional regimen. I even practiced the transfers— changing out of my wetsuit to get onto my bike, and then shifting from my bike into the run.
The plan derived from a clear goal, and it required physical, mental, and emotional preparation. My first triathlon was a short “Sprint,” but by the end of the summer, I had completed what they call an Olympic-length triathlon. I’d also improved as a swimmer!
In the same way, achieving a goal like passing on your wealth, values, and financial knowledge to your kids requires a game plan. Building and retaining your family wealth takes preparation, thoughtfulness, and communication. You need to create shared ownership of your family’s financial goals, and you all need to buy into the same strategies. In short, you need to have a Family Vision.
What is a Family Vision?
A Family Vision essentially answers the question, “What is money for?” Or, put another way, “What is the purpose of our money?” This seems like an obvious question, but there’s often not an obvious answer. Think of a newlywed couple who—unknowingly—come into their marriage with two totally different visions of how to deal with money. The wife expects to have nice things: flashy cars, designer clothes, and a plush home. She expects that they will earn a lot, and spend a lot.
The husband is more of a Scrooge McDuck—he’s focused on accumulation. He’s not interested in financing a Mercedes Benz; he’d much prefer to live in a studio apartment and save as much as possible. Until these two arrive at a shared Family Vision for their wealth, there will be conflict, frustration, and a sense that each spouse is undermining the other spouse’s goals.
It’s counter-productive at best when family members have different visions for the family wealth, especially across generations. At worst, it can destroy a family’s estate—and even the family itself. The authors of Preparing Heirs: Five Steps to a Successful Transition of Family Wealth and Values note that the primary reason for an unsuccessful transition of wealth is due to the “breakdown of trust and communication within the family.” In other words, if a family wants to perpetuate wealth they’ve got to get on the same page. There needs to be trust, and shared ownership of the vision.
Forming a Family Vision gives your family a game plan. It helps everyone get on the same page and crystallizes your family’s core values. We believe having a plan like this in place is crucial for a successful transfer of wealth—and values—down the road.
A Shared Vision Means Alignment
When everyone shares the same vision, momentum and efficiency can increase. The same is true for managing wealth within a family. Do you want to pass on your wealth and values to future generations? As an added bonus, would you like your kids to have more grit, have better mental health, perform better in school, and show greater ease in adjusting to unfamiliar contexts? Creating a Family Vision helps lead to all of these benefits.
Corporate America gets this. Most large, thriving companies have a clearly defined mission statement. They have guiding principles, quarterly goals, and five-year plans. They have documents describing their company culture. Collectively, these documents and goals help everyone work toward a common goal.
A financial Family Vision means getting on the same basic page about money, but some families take it a step further, and outline a comprehensive mission statement for their family. No matter how far you take the process, research shows that when families rally around a common vision, their bond is strengthened across generations and children show more resilience through adolescence. One study makes the point:
“Regular family dinners, yearly vacations, and holiday celebrations occur more frequently in families that have high levels of cohesiveness and that they contribute to the development of a strong sense of what we have called the intergenerational self. It is this intergenerational self and the personal strength and moral guidance that seem to derive from it that are associated with increased resilience, better adjustment, and improved chances of good clinical and educational outcomes."
When families take steps to cultivate a family identity, they give their children a strong sense of self and history, which gives them more inner strength. When children are aware of their family’s history and values, they’re more likely to feel a positive obligation toward future generations, both emotionally and financially.
Your Game Plan is Your Foundation for Success
Most families want to pass their wealth, values, and financial knowledge to future generations. In order to do that effectively, you need a game plan—much in the same way that I needed a game plan to get through my ambitious series of triathlons.
The more aligned your family is on your game plan (a.k.a., your Family Vision), the more likely it is that you will share a sense of family stewardship and a vision for wealth that stretches far into the future. The values that you and your family choose to emphasize in teachable moments will all be rooted in your vision for your family: one leads to the next. Your Family Vision is the foundation for all the healthy financial behaviors and habits that bring your family success for years to come.
For more advice on forming a family vision of wealth, you can find Pass It On on Amazon.
Roger and Lori Gervais are proud parents of three wonderful children: Anna, Will, and Jack. Roger and Lori are also the husband-and-wife team behind The Gervais Group, named by Forbes as “Best in State Wealth Advisors” in Wisconsin. Lori, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, has been recognized for her commitment to clients and to the profession by Forbes, which named her to its America’s Top Women Advisor List. Roger, a CFA® charterholder, uses his background in engineering to offer clients a unique set of problem-solving skills. Throughout their thirty years of combined experience in the industry, Roger and Lori have made it their mission to simplify the complex world of financial planning.