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Legacy Matters

March 27, 2019

The Benefits of Shared Family Values

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same,
but you leave ‘em all over everything you do.” - Elvis Presley

 
If you are an owner of a family business or a steward of family wealth, chances are you have spent a lot of time, focus and energy developing the business or managing your wealth, and discussing with your family the importance of being good stewards of these assets. But, you still may be wondering:
 
  • “Will the business endure for another generation?”
  • “Will my children manage their inheritance responsibly?”
  • “Will the family legacy of philanthropy be continued?”
  • “Will my family stay connected after I’m gone?”

All of these questions, at their root, originate from values. And, to paraphrase Elvis, our individual values certainly shape what we do. Why does this matter to families? Anecdotal evidence among practitioners who work with families of wealth shows that families who are working with shared values are more likely to thrive together, for the long term.  
 
“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” - Roy E. Disney

Having a set of shared values provides several benefits to families. These shared values make decision-making easier because they provide the family with a common vocabulary for discussing issues germane to the family. A set of shared values also serves as a guide for making decisions, whether the decisions involve the future of a family business, participating in a shared investment opportunity or approving a charitable grant.
 
What are values?

Values are not a set of rules designed to dictate behavior or produce a particular end-result, nor are there “right” and “wrong” values. Rather, values are deep-seated beliefs or standards that guide decision-making and motivate behavior. 
 
If you were to sit down and list the top 10 values that guide you, and ask members of your family to do the same, the variety of answers may surprise you. Further, when you explore a family member’s definition of a stated value, you may find it differs from how you would define that same value; or perhaps you use different words to describe the same value.  

So how can you arrive at shared family values when there may be discrepancy in the values as well as their definitions?

Values clarification can provide agreement on shared family values.
 
Values clarification is not a process to force values on others, create new values, or identify “the right” values; rather, it is a process to:
 
  • Identify existing values;
  • Agree on the meaning of identified values;
  • Arrive at values common to and shared by the family; and
  • Discuss how these values will guide and motivate the family.
 
Conducting a values clarification exercise allows family members to identify their own personal values and work together to select a set of shared values that will serve as a guide for the family as a whole. Further, spending a focused period of time really thinking about and discussing core values sparks unexpected, thoughtful conversation that often extends beyond the exercise itself. 

Using a facilitator who is practiced in the exercise of values clarification and who is not a family member is highly recommended for this meeting because this allows all family members to be fully engaged in the process and eliminates any distraction that would be caused by leading the exercise.

If you are interested in clarifying or developing a set of shared family values, contact Susan Gell Meyers in our Private Client and Family Office practice at smeyers@wnj.com or at 616.752.2184 to facilitate a session for your family.

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