Stay The Course: Establish Your Family’s Fundamental Values!

“It’s humbling and enthralling to know your legacy when you’re alive”. Laura SchlesingerStay the Course sign, family unit

 “Family is not an important thing. It is everything.” Michael J. Fox

Every family (whether its members know it or not) has a “true north” – guiding values that are part of the DNA that holds the family together and makes its legacy what it is. These are the values that have been embedded and blended through generations. In every family there are two sets – the values that matter when the family interacts with each other and the values that matter when interacting with others. Sometimes these overlap, and sometimes they do not.

Although every family has these fundamental values, not every family is aware of what they are. Sometimes they are assumed and lie dormant until there is a sudden event that shocks the system, forcing the family to address its values and legacy. The shock may be negative – a divorce, a huge financial loss, a physical tragedy or the death of a key family member. The shock may be positive – the sale of a family business leading to significant liquidity, winning the lottery, marriage, an inheritance.

It would, of course, be much better to think about your family legacy before a shock happens. Take the time to focus on what your family stands for, what you would like to transmit to subsequent generations and how you would like your family to partner with the larger community. Intentional legacy planning creates a stronger family unit. It is easier for those entering the family to understand what the values are if the family itself has focused on what the family stands for and begun a plan to implement it.

When learning to sail, a novice starts out in calm water in a boat that cannot overturn. As the skills advance and as the sailor understands the interaction of the compass, the team on board, the boat, the sails, the wind, the weather and the water, the sailor will advance – from a pond to a lake to an ocean and, if very adventuresome, to a trans- Atlantic cruise. As the journey becomes more complicated, so will the team on board, the boat, and the sails. The wind, water and weather will always change, but the compass will always point to true north.

I remember one of the first times I sailed on Cape Cod. I was a teenager and had taken sailing lessons at Stone Horse Yacht Club in a small sailboat known as a Waterbug. It could not tip over, and in the inlet I had enough confidence in my expertise to convince my younger sister that it was safe to crew on my maiden voyage. We never got out of the canal. The cross winds were quite a bit harder than sailing on smooth water in the inlet. There was a restaurant, Thompson’s Clam Bar, on the side of the canal. After watching me turn the boat around in circles and go nowhere for more than an hour a man having lunch went down to his motor boat and towed us out to the open ocean. My sister made us stay out there for 3 hours until she was sure that everyone who had been having lunch at Thompson’s and witnessed my lack of prowess had gone home. By dusk we made it in safely.

Learning to sail is an acquired skill. It takes attention, diligence and practice in different waters. To be very good you must sail through squalls, and you must make plenty of mistakes and then right your course. This is, of course, true in life too. The compass will point to north but getting there requires attention, discipline and practice. If you tried to sail the open ocean without a compass you would be flirting with disaster. If you try to lead your family without a clear understanding and focus of what your fundamental values are, you will be flirting with disaster.


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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