High Performance Families Talk Peacefully and Honestly About Money

Thomas William Deans Ph.D.
April 9, 2024
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In turns out my newest book, The Happy Inheritor: How Successful Families Prepare Heirs and Transfer Wealth had been simmering in me for along time, born mostly from frustration. The book is an awakening of sorts that some people will simply never talk peacefully and honestly with their family about their wealth.  Money Secrets can be an inherited cultural practice and it can be a deliberate and destructive method of controlling family relationships. Call them bad actors or difficult people, the book reminds tens of millions of hopeful inheritors that they may be depending on a financial gift that simply never arrives.


As a thought leader, some of my ideas push cultural norms, even professional norms.  A few lawyers have told me that they are conflicted about advising clients to share their estate plans with their intended beneficiaries.  They fear that it may lead to a family conversation, that may lead to undue influence, that may lead to a will change, that may lead to estate litigation and that may lead to something even scarier – lawyers being sued. That’s a lot of mays. And so we may be left with the status quo which is silence . Getting a feel for why it took me 10 years to write this book.


The Happy Inheritor proposes a compromise of sorts. It offers the idea of a facilitated family meeting as the safest, smartest place where disclosures can be made with the help and in the presence of trusted advisors -- including lawyers. It’s a crazy idea – so crazy that it's actually starting to work. Family meetings are becoming more common - a new must have that signals a family has attained a certain level of wealth.


If this idea really catches-on, I may need to throw away my favorite lawyer joke:  

Q: How many lawyers does it take to change a light-bulb?

A: None, they like it when a family is left in the dark.


Having been a professional speaker and family meeting designer for some of the wealthiest families in the United States and Canada, The Happy Inheritor offers the best practices I’ve seen for preparing heirs for the smooth transition of generational wealth, and avoiding destructive family breakdowns.


For almost two decades I have had the privilege of traveling the world and meeting tens of thousands of people, to sign their books and listen to their stories, lots of family stories about inheriting wealth (or not).


All of the stories I have collected have in some way informed the major themes in The Happy Inheritor.  Some of the stories are of families who operate from a deep place of trust, love and respect. There is no denying the fun they derive from being in each other’s company when they assemble with their advisors for the most important element of a wealth transfer plan – their family meeting.


The power of a healthy family  who gather is something extraordinary to witness.  The differences among family members aren’t just tolerated, they are explored and celebrated. Kindness and love are their defining qualities and so too is laughter. Gratitude is always palpable, especially around the subject of wealth and how it will be transitioned.


But many of the stories that I share in The Happy Inheritor, are about the complete breakdown of a family because of the way wealth was transitioned or is being threatened to be transitioned. There are individuals who would simply never agree to gather for a family meeting because they use secrecy and the promise of their wealth to control family relationships. For anyone living in servitude to someone who is dangling an inheritance, the message in this book is ...you better start saving.


The Happy Inheritor will help many readers understand how to hold their first family meeting and begin a new family tradition of financial openness. Many will find receptive parents and children when someone introduces a new family tradition of gathering to talk about the last real taboo -- money.


The central idea of a family meeting is that the most senior generation discloses overtime how and when their wealth will transfer in the context of how they hope to age and who will provide oversight of their care. There is reciprocity and transparency around these two ideas in a healthy family.

If you want to learn more about what a high performance family meeting looks like, give The Happy Inheritor  a read. Generational wealth transfers is the hottest trend in wealth management. Every day Americans inherit $3 Billion - Canadians inherit $300 Million. If you are wondering how someone could inherit and be unhappy, The Happy Inheritor answers that question too.

Order your copy of the The Happy Inheritor   www.TheHappyInheritor.com/order