Family Conversations about Wealth and Giving

Liz Whitteberry |

There's truth to the saying, "Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations." According to numerous studies, 70% of families lose their wealth in two generations; 90% lose their wealth in three.  While the reasons for these dramatic losses vary, open communication and clear planning can go a long way towards helping a family sustain its legacy. 

The holiday season is an ideal time for these important conversations.  Sharing answers to the following three questions can help your family create a family mission statement that will prepare the next generation to be generous and thoughtful stewards.


1 - What are our values?

The myriad challenges of the past couple of years has forced all of us to reassess what's truly important. You may have realized that you weren't allocating enough time for your passions. Events might have opened your eyes to problems in your communities you hadn't noticed before. Perhaps your family is exploring new philanthropic opportunities, rethinking college study plans, or even contemplating career changes.

In a conversation between generations of family members, some of these topics can get a little touchy. It's important to remember that your family doesn't have to agree on every issue that's discussed. Instead of trying to convince each other, focus your mission statement on the things that everyone will be excited to work on together.


2 - What is our purpose?

It's possible that your values discussion will lead to a long first draft of your mission statement. Settling on a clearly defined purpose will help you narrow down that list. No matter how wealthy or well-intentioned your family is, you can't help every cause.  One way to focus the discussion is to think local.


3 - What is our plan?

The most effective family mission statements have structure. Settling on values and purpose should give you an idea of what you want to accomplish. But what are the steps you can put in place to make a real impact?

Family giving plans come in all shapes and sizes. You might enjoy this values and purpose discussion so much that your family decides to revisit it every holiday season and choose a new charity to support.

If your family is anticipating a major generational transition, such as retirement, you might explore more formal ways of establishing your legacy. Many families form their own nonprofit organization or a charitable trust to memorialize their values and purpose in a way that will resonate with future generations.


If you and your family would like some advice or assistance with these plans, please feel free to reach out.