Posted in Triplett & Carothers on April 2, 2023
A family mission statement is not just for family businesses and the ultra-wealthy. Any family looking to provide guidance for future generations can benefit from creating a written document that outlines their principles.
The mission statement goes beyond intergenerational transfers of wealth. A broader examination asks this question: what can we do with our wealth to help the next generation achieve overall financial well-being?
Launching the process
The mission statement will be a short document summarizing what your family unit represents and how you want it to develop. The purpose is to promote the family’s human capital and the pursuit of happiness among all its members. The document should be a unified and intentional expression of the values and standards shared by all family members.
One or more generations will design the statement itself, a collaborative enterprise intended to establish guideposts for handling family assets. It may sometimes include businesses and philanthropies. It is not, however, an enforceable legal document. It serves as an ongoing resource to support the family as a high-functioning team, perhaps with mechanisms for decision making and dispute resolution.
But first you need to get family members together. Therefore, set up a meeting, an occasion designated for individuals to connect and bond. The process of creating the mission statement may turn out to be even more important than the final product.
Remember, Rome was not built in a day. Your process can be incremental if you establish regular meetings and communicate the program to everyone. It is also important to give younger generations a framework to start thinking about profound issues. It is key that all members have a voice and be listened to attentively. And write it all down! Memorialize everyone’s contributions.
A living document
Take as long as you need to come up with a first draft. There is no time pressure, and you will all be able to edit and fine-tune as needed. While there are no hard-and-fast rules, you will probably want to meet to revisit and revise the document every couple of years. The object is still to facilitate meaningful discussions as you amend the statement. Be sure to schedule family meetings well in advance, and perhaps provide funding for travel for those coming from distant places.
You may need to moderate discussions as time passes and incorporate events like births, deaths and divorces. There should be some system for making amendments, perhaps as part of the original document, and you may also require a process for any members departing the family who might opt to take some assets with them.
In any event, the mission statement should not be too rigid. The current approach is to move away from a set of clear rules to a more principles-based method. For example, to encourage financial fluency and autonomy among younger members, consider increasing their roles as they mature.
When building your mission document, keep in mind the family’s core values. These can range widely, depending on what matters to members:
To flesh out aspirations like these, you might circulate thought-provoking questions at meetings for everyone to consider:
- What makes you want to come home?
- How do you want to be remembered?
- What are the outstanding talents or abilities of our family members?
- What other families inspire us?
- What values and causes do we support?
- What are our favorite family traditions?
- How do others see us?
- When do we feel most closely connected to one another?
- What are your family responsibilities?
- Where will we be in five, 10, 20 years?
- How should we take care of sick or disabled relatives?
- What is the role of our family in the community?
- Should we bring in professionals to help manage family assets?
You may decide to work as a group with financial advisers and planners, tax experts, and estate attorneys. It may be helpful to prepare by discussing your own role with your own professional advisers.