Advising Family Businesses

Family Wealth Transition Planning Book Review

Seasoned professionals Bonnie Brown Hartley and Gwendolyn Griffith offer an excellent methodology for designing family business transition plans.

If you own a family business or are an advisor to family businesses, you'll want to get a copy of Family Wealth Transition Planning by Bonnie Brown Hartley and Gwendolyn Griffith.

Family Wealth Transition Planning Book Review

In this book, the authors present a simple yet highly effective structure for family wealth advising, offering excellent advice on how to prepare both the family business and the family itself for the future.

The book offers a well-constructed process that balances financial interests, human interests and social interests. The authors convincingly suggest that a family wealth transition plan that does not take a holistic, integrated approach to the three elements of family business planning is likely to fail.

Indeed, research by others has found that 70 percent of wealth transfer plans for family enterprises are not successful. So, clearly there's room for improvement in the world of wealth transition consulting.

To be sure, for families that have the good fortune of owning a multi-generational family business that has accrued family wealth over time, there are many challenges.

Because family businesses are often privately held, they are illiquid, note the authors. Yet, at the same time, family members are dependent on the business for income and support. With family business wealth often accounting for the vast majority of a family's assets, there is also the issue of diversification, or, more aptly, lack thereof. Finally, the family business is an emotional roller coaster, with family members having diverse interests and desires, often in direct conflict, that must be accommodated and addressed.

Operating in this complex context, the end goal of family wealth transition planning is defined by the authors to be "the ability and willingness of a family to make capital available to family members over generations in the right way, at the right time, and in the right amounts." In other words, high-net-worth families must maintain, enhance and optimally parcel out that net worth to family members over time and thus achieve family wealth continuity.

Throughout the book, the authors explain how advisers can gain a deeper understanding of the unique characteristics of a given client's family wealth system, and then describe how to design a wealth transition plan that will adapt the family wealth system toward family wealth continuity.

This methodology is effectively illustrated through the stories of three business families, fictitious families that will nonetheless appear all too real to family business owners and relatives who might happen to read this book. The families that are used for the case studies are indeed prototypical of business families everywhere.

If you are, or will one day be, an advisor to business families in transition, this book gives you an excellent roadmap for guiding your clients to the design of a successful family wealth transition plan. It's a great read for accountants, lawyers, financial advisers, bankers, estate planning experts and business consultants who work with family businesses.

It can also be a useful read for family business members as well, because it offers a primer on what you should expect of your family business advisers and how best to work with them.

Though this book is at its core simply words printed on pages, it is in fact a detailed recipe for preserving those things that are most important to family business members: healthy family relationships; stewardship and enhancement of family wealth and family businesses; and the ongoing development of a family's legacy.

Ready to dive in? The book is published by Bloomberg Press and is available now. You'll find it at your local bookstore and at your favorite online bookstores.

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