The Greatest Gift to Leave Your Grandchildren

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You’ve probably heard the phrase “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” It describes how wealth earned in one generation tends to be lost by the third. This is a common phenomenon. Avoiding this fate is a core theme in the Bonner & Partners Family Office newsletter.

How do you hold on to wealth you worked hard to earn? I’m going to level with you. It’s darn hard building a family fortune that lasts.

This is how it goes for most families…

A wealth creator creates a fortune. But he neglects his family. The family becomes dysfunctional. It breaks down. The family wealth is lost.

It’s a real tragedy. But it’s also entirely understandable. That’s because the left-brain skills – logic, language and analytical thinking – that help you succeed in business don’t help much when it comes to dealing with delicate family issues.

In fact, they can be downright problematic…

The take-charge, get-it-done personality often doesn’t worry about “personal issues.” He (or she, if the wealth creator is the family matriarch) is focused on the business, the investments and the bottom line.

So what’s the solution? How do you prevent the all-too-common family breakdown I outlined above?

If you are a typical left-brain thinker, this may sound horribly “fuzzy” to you. But the solution lies in building and nurturing a strong and lasting family culture.

At Bonner & Partners Family Office we believe your family culture – not your family’s investment portfolio (however large) – is the “glue” that holds your family together.

Put the Family Culture Front and Center

If your family is involved in a business, it will be a major component of your family’s culture. This is good news. Your family should hold in high regard the unique skills and secrets that make it work. You should also teach these skills to your kids and grandkids as a rite of passage.

If your family is not involved in a family business, think about the common occupations your family is involved in. Maybe you come from a line of farmers, lawyers, doctors, blacksmiths, or college professors. Whatever these common occupations are, they are an important source of family identity.

But it goes further than that…

You see, your family investments… how you spend time together… family vacations – these are all also expressions of your family culture.

Most of what you do as a family is influenced and guided by your family culture. This includes all the various aspects of family life, such as:

  • Family values
  • The way family members look and carry themselves
  • The family business and/or common occupation(s)
  • Family hobbies
  • Education
  • Marriage
  • Religious practices
  • Philanthropic practices
  • Political viewpoints and activity
  • The family history
  • The family motto and/or crest
  • Family friends, relationships and business partnerships
  • Family vacations

These things are all expressions of who your family is and what they believe in. Again, I know these things may sound “fuzzy” to you. But all the successful multigenerational families we’ve researched and talked to put family culture front and center. Because they know that if they don’t, the family is prone to fall apart after the wealth creator leaves the picture.

Immortalize Your Legacy

Something that is becoming very popular among large and established family offices these days is to encourage the wealth creator to create a video, or a book, that directly explains the family culture to the “next gens.”

It is one of the greatest gifts you could leave your grandchildren.

This is a kind of “archiving” of the values, insights and experiences of the wealth creator – a way of preserving them and passing them on to future generations who may not know or have met the wealth creator. In itself, it’s also an expression of your family culture. The fact that you’re doing that gives importance to the subject.

Tell them about all the unique and wonderful things about your family. Tell them family stories and the family history. Tell them why your family does things a certain way. After all, the purpose of your family office is to create a family and family wealth that will last.

One Bonner & Partners Family Office member from Australia wrote a book for his daughters to let them know about his experiences… his mistakes… and the lessons he’d learned along the way.

A family culture video or book will help your family members understand who they are and what it means to be a member of your family. This will make the “glue” of the family culture stronger.

I’m going to urge my dad to create a video for our family. He’s created a number of them for the family business, for our customers and for employees. But he won’t be around forever. And I think it would be great for him to tell our family exactly what it means to be a Bonner.

We don’t need to do this right away. But it’s something important that we should do in the near future. I’ll have my children watch when they’re at an age at which they can understand it. And their children can watch it too!

I can’t think of a better way to immortalize your legacy.

If you write even a short book, you should get it printed and bound so that it can be passed on to successive generations. A video might be easier to create. And it may be better for making an emotional connection with family members because they’ll be able to see you. It all depends on whether you’re a natural writer or a natural speaker.

Whichever format you choose, doing this now will inform future members of your family – people you will never meet – about who you were… and who they are. It will help them be the kind of family that will be united and successful for generations.

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  • Kasonde

    Thank you – This is so inspiring and a fantastic idea – although we don’t have a family business, we do have a saying my Dad always uses. I’m going to urge my family to adopt it and concretise then immortalise our family culture for future generations.

    • Thanks so much for your feedback!

  • This is precisely why I started podcasting years ago. Good stuff.

  • Joyce Cornelius

    Excellent way to preserve heritage! Even if you think that you do not have anything to leave that fact that you survived is a testament within itself. Thanks for helping us to embrace our own immortality!!

  • Cher Ponte

    The kindest, most generous group of people I know is a family which loves one another unconditionally and hangs around together every chance they get. They are a large clan spanning four generations, and there is nowhere they’d rather be than together. They have varying political and spiritual beliefs but those things are never allowed to create obstacles between them because they all care deeply for one another. They vacation together, often record parts of their get-togethers, and mark them with kindness, affection and gift each other with tokens of those times. They have an almost childlike need for one another and it’s a beautiful thing to see. To round out the points made in the article, I would add that mandatory teaching of intelligent fiscal practices is critical. You can have all the soft skills in the world, but without a firm understanding of finances, you will most likely never achieve a comfortable lifestyle. A healthy respect for the power of money and investments combined with the family skills outlined above offer the best chance for family wealth to be built and to survive, in my opinion. Great article.

    • Sounds wonderful, thank you!