Fundamental Family Estate Planning Goals

estate plann image, After you have given some thought to what the true north fundamental goals of your family are (and if you are new to the family, how your true north values mesh with those of the family you are blending into) then the question is: what do you do with that? At what velocity are your goals set? Are you happy at a modest level? Do you wish to shoot for a sonic boom?

If a strong sense of family and family safety is a paramount value, what goals to you put in place achieve it? I would assume that open communication would then be critical so that there are no surprises. Does that mean every member getting together on a regular basis?

If you do not live near each other, does that mean regular virtual communication? Do you establish a system for mentorship within the family? Does the family have a no-questions-asked “family bank” for emergencies? Is there a “travel bank” for family get togethers? Do you have a grandparents “summer camp” where the grandparents and grandchildren all get together for one week each summer (without the middle generation) and embark on a series of educational and recreational activities where the focus can be on the wider concept of family? Do you wish to establish family traditions that will continue on for subsequent generations and show the connections and strength of the family as it expands? The Kennedys had their family compound in Hyannis Massachusetts. Other families have weekend reunions in different locations. What would yours be?

How are holidays handled? Do they rotate? Do you have a common facebook site that posts pictures and has written narratives? How are new family members introduced? Are there traditions to make the entering spouse (and family) feel comfortable? Are there roles that the new family member should play to have a voice and be included? Will you assign a family leader (formally or informally) to keep this value on top of his mind? How would that person be selected, and when would the position rotate?

If entrepreneurism is a paramount value, what goals do you put in place to achieve it? Are there open discussions about the history of the family’s entrepreneurism? Is there instruction on business plans and what they mean? Are there “classes” on the financial components of this – balance sheet, profit and loss statement, risk, borrowing money, capital financing? If there is a family business, is there an articulated expectation about who can work in it and when? Are there policies about family members in summer jobs, internships?

How is ownership handled? How are family members who are not owners handled? How are family members who are not employees but who are owners handled? What is the process for communication? What about cash flow? What information do the family member employees and the family member owners receive? What is the exit strategy for a family employee or owner? What if a family member wants to go his/her own way? Are there funds available for that? Are those loans? What does all this do to inheritance?

If philanthropy and giving back to the community at large are fundamental values, what are the steps necessary to achieve them? A family I worked with was a hard working family that built a significant business in the food services industry. When I met the parents, they were in their 90s; the business was being run by the next generation with an eye toward sale and conversion of the business to cash. The parents’ estate planning documents consisted of simple wills – all to each other and then to their children. When the parents had established the company they had put the shares of stock in the children’s names and therefore, for estate planning purposes, most of the wealth had already shifted to the next generation. Having said that, what the parents had in their names was still significant, and yet no thought had been given to their planning.

In my discussions with them it became clear that the parents wished that there was an entity like the family business that would collectively engage subsequent generations. It was also clear to me that philanthropy was a fundamental value in this family. Specifically, the parents had worked hard with time and money to do what they could to end homelessness and to provide food and shelter for homeless people. Yet, this philanthropy was not “organized”; it was in the parents DNA, and they had transmitted it to their children, yet there were no enabling structures.

We established a charitable foundation for the parents as part of their estate plan, and at their death, their entire net worth was added to that foundation. The foundation is now operated by all of the children and there is a plan underway for the grandchildren to become involved. There are family philanthropy meetings and a meeting of all family members during the Thanksgiving season. The family sets policies, reviews grants, goes on site visits and has active discussions about how to continue their parents’ goal of ending homelessness.

Should it be a family rule that each member over the age of 8 years must do something on a volunteer basis – go to a food bank; mow an elderly neighbor’s lawn? Should there be accountability for philanthropy? Are there common times of the year such as Thanksgiving when the family gets together and makes a decision as to how a collective sum of money should be dispersed? If the family is to give $100, or $1,000 or $10,000 that year, should there be a collective gift for part of it? How would the charities be selected? Would individual family members be assigned to participate in site visits (on a multi generational basis) and then provide a report and recommendations? Should it be a collective or an individual goal to contribute a certain percentage, such as 10% of income, to philanthropy each year? If the family has a business should part of the profit be used for community-based endeavors?

A helpful exercise is to think about, discuss and write down first the three most important true north values that your family has, and then the three goals that would support the sustainability of those values. It is important to consider how those goals would be implemented, by when they will be implemented (so that they are trackable) and who is in charge of the implementation.


Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning. She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about. Annino recently released her new book, “It’s More Than Money, Protect Your Legacy” available at To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,

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