This sounds really morbid, and it’s an awful way to start, but have you ever known anyone who was waiting for their parents or relatives to die in order to receive an inheritance?
I hate to say it, but I have known people like this, and it is not a pretty situation. In all honesty, it leaves me sick to my stomach. In having the opportunity to work with families through inheritance and succession issues, one of my strongest convictions is to help them set proper expectations. We do this in the hopes that these situations don’t arise, and good communication happens before a transfer.
In my experience there is a perfect antidote, limiting the possibility of this type of situation arising, and it comes from an unlikely place, generosity. Working with many families throughout the years, I’ve witnessed first-hand how building a legacy of generosity changes the focus of the entire family in a very beautiful way.
Once a vision of generosity is established, most people recognize the benefits, but face the challenge of figuring out the best way to start. Here are three ideas to help you bring the generosity conversation into your family and begin to change the focus from “What wealth can do for me?” to “How can we use our wealth to serve others?”.
First, be willing to start small. Many times, when we take on a new endeavor, our goal is to think of big ideas. We get so busy thinking of the big ideas that we never start. If you’re willing to start small, it gives you a place to begin that will certainly be more manageable.
The best personal example I can give, is how I started with my own children. When my kids were six and under, we used Christmas as the opportunity to look at the mail catalogs that encouraged giving tangible gifts to children in need.
If you’ve never seen one of these catalogs, they have things to purchase like a goat for a family, a soccer ball for a child, or mosquito nets for a village. These gifts are tangible, don’t cost a lot of money, and they are very relatable. Even my three‑year‑old could understand how someone might enjoy a soccer ball. By starting small, these ideas then build and grow over time.
Second, share your family’s giving values. Come up with a list of things that are important, things you can all agree on. This makes for a better experience because you will find, there will be no lack of opportunities of where to give. If you understand what your giving values are, then it’s easy to know what you will give to. This understanding can also empower you to say no when necessary.
For example, our family puts a lot of emphasis on giving to causes that influence children and keep families together. This has led us to organizations that support freeing children from human trafficking and that help build homes to keep families together. We’ve also turned down gifts to animal shelters, not because we are against animals, but because it’s not the focus of our giving.
Over time, your family may change what you’re passionate about and what your values are, but starting with a set of values gives you a road map for how to think about your giving. It gives you a set of guard rails to keep everyone on the same page.
Third, create regular family giving meetings. Having a regularly scheduled meeting for your family to sit down and talk about the giving you’re doing is important. For example, an easy way to do this is starting on a quarterly basis. Our family has used Sunday evenings as a time to get everyone together. Once a quarter, we sit down and talk about our giving.
The number one question I hear is, “How young is too young?” That is up to each family to decide. As I mentioned earlier, we started with our youngest at the age of three. We believe that, through this process, our children have matured and grown in their giving. Our goal was to expose them to all the different opportunities available and trust our opportunities would grow with their maturity.
One of my favorite memories from our meetings was when my oldest son, Clayton, at the age of 9, brought up a classmate with special needs who needed some equipment to help him walk and build muscle. We were able to put some funds toward helping to buy that equipment. It was great to see Clayton and his brother and sister all own the idea of helping someone they knew personally. It created a special memory for them along their giving journey. I’ve seen them continue to expand their giving over the years as we’ve explored other opportunities through our meetings.
The easiest antidote to change our focus from ourselves is finding ways we can give back. I’ve seen it in my own family. I believe you will be amazed by how generosity can change the focus of your family in a very beautiful way.
It changes the conversations you have on a regular basis. When it comes time to transfer wealth, your family will be more likely to think about how they can use it for others, rather than how they can hold onto it for themselves.
At Paradiem, we believe that money doesn’t cause problems, but it certainly has the power to reveal and magnify issues you may have been ignoring. We’ve found that helping families begin with a different perspective creates outcomes beyond anything their current professionals have helped them consider. I encourage you to get a copy of our whitepaper, “Are there unintended consequences hidden inside your current estate or business plans?” If you would like a copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Unintended Consequences” or give us a call at (985) 727-0770.