Why I Wrote ....... The Happy Inheritor

Thomas William Deans Ph.D.
May 14, 2024
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Why I wrote The Happy Inheritor  


Two weeks after selling our family’s business – the business that my father started in 1973, the one I ran for 8 years as CEO -- I sat down and wrote Every Family’s Business. The book was and easily remains the most contrarian book on the subject of family business succession planning.


That was 17 years ago, and with over a million copies in circulation Every Family’s Business continues to sell-well and polarize family business consultants, many of whom are dedicated to a competing idea of perpetuating a business from one generation to the next, at any cost.  


So polarizing is the book’s message among practitioners, that after one of my keynote speeches in Philadelphia, the local Family Firm Institute Chapter folded.


17 years ago, the concept of thought-leadership didn’t exist, but that’s what I was – and that’s what I remain.


I followed Every Family’s Business five years later with a book entitled Willing Wisdom that set out to explain why 158 million US and Canadian adults do not have a legal will. Appealing to a wider audience, the book easily outsold Every Family’s Business and extended my time on the speaking circuit by a decade.


Despite 2000 keynotes in 28 countries and 4 continents over the past 17 years – something was off.  Something was definitely missing from my message.  


I had already declared to my family, friends past clients that I was done writing books. That is until one morning in the fall of 2023 without warning, without a plan, without intentionality, I began typing a manuscript that became   The Happy Inheritor.  As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.  Once I typed the first sentence, the rest of the book flew off my finger-tips between the hours of 3:30 AM and 7:00AM for months on-end.


With a full decade since the release of Willing Wisdom, it turns out I had been researching and preparing The Happy Inheritor for a long time without knowing.


I couldn’t be more thrilled with the end-product, because the book finally resolves the biggest question I have been wrestling with for two decades – why do families struggle to talk about money -- especially inheritances?


For some, this book will be an uncomfortable read, for others it will offer comfort and validation.


The Happy Inheritor shines a light on difficult people or bad actors sitting in plain sight who practice the most unspeakable abuse of family members, people who use their wealth to control and divide relationships.  The often, covert nature of this abuse makes the damage insidious, and because their victims quite literally love their abusers. The mental health devastation is showing-up in tens of millions of people amplified by the biggest wealth transfer ever – a combined $3.3 Billion inherited every day in the US and Canada. That's not a typo - $3.3 Billion every day.


It is in this context of a mental health crisis of staggering proportions that The Happy Inheritor reveals why some business owners will only transfer control of their business on the day they die – even if they are in their nineties.  It reveals why many of the 158 million US and Canadian adults who don’t have a legal will, never will (no pun intended).  It reveals why the vast majority of people who do have a will, elect to keep their documents secret.  And it reveals why many people will simply never agree to gather for a family meeting to prepare heirs for the orderly, transparent transfer of wealth.


The front cover of The Happy Inheritor sums-up The current Great Wealth Transfer this way: “Many people transfer wealth with great care and joy, while others use it to control and destroy.”


If one accepts that all progress starts by telling the truth, The Happy Inheritor is my best effort to honour the many brave people who shared their stories with me – people who are struggling in family webs spun long before they were born.


To give the tormentors a name, is the first step in a thousand-mile journey of recovery for victims -- tens of millions of people suffering mental abuse inside their own family where money in all its forms, be it a family business, a cottage or cash is used as a blunt instrument of control.


Like any trauma, a victim’s ultimate triumph lies in putting a stop to generational harm.  When secrets about wealth are replaced with transparency, and control replaced with trust and kindness – a new generation of Happy Inheritors will emerge fully prepared to honour that which has been given.


The Happy Inheritor shows how healthy high-performance families rarely achieve generational success without the support and leadership of a trusted advisor who puts facilitated family meetings at the center of their process.  The book reveals what a family meeting looks like, who is invited, where it takes place and what is discussed.


One reviewer, a successful advisor, called The Happy Inheritor the most important book he has ever read.


I couldn’t be more excited to see where this book takes readers, families and their advisors.