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Five ways to preserve family wealth – and unity

Have you ever seen a mansion wasting away? Or a family business close after several generations? For as long as records have been kept, it seems, 9 in 10 families fail to hold onto their assets – and their family unity – for more than three generations. It doesn't have to be that way. There is a formula for sustaining wealth from one generation to the next, and it has little to do with investment strategies or legal structures and everything to do with building family relationships. In our work with The Heritage Institute, which helps successful families pass on their wealth and unity, we have broken down this formula into five essential elements. Whether you're trying to preserve a $50 million estate or a $50,000 inheritance, these five elements can help you build family lasting unity around shared goals:

By Ryan Zeeb and Todd Rhine, Contributors

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In this file photo Lucia Golluscio, left, talks with her mother Eva de Golluscio, in her mother's Buenos Aires, Argentina apartment. The pair get together at least once a week to visit. Communicating across generations is important in maintaining family wealth.

Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor/File

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1. Foster strong and effective communication, and build trust among generations

Why do families lose their wealth? When authors/advisers Roy Williams & Vic Preisser asked that question of more than 3,250 families, less than 3 percent said poor planning and investments. Some 60 percent pointed to lack of communication and trust in the family, and 25 percent said unprepared heirs. Effective communication is key.

To be effective, family communication must be “adult-to-adult.” By this, we mean that adult children or grandchildren must be able to express themselves and be heard as adults, even when speaking to their parents or grandparents. The keys to doing this successfully have come to be known as the “3 Ps” (so named by Steve Buchholz and Thomas Roth in their 1987 book, "Creating The High-Performance Team"). The three Ps are:

Permission: All individual family members need to be given permission to assert themselves and take the first step.

Protection: All family members need to feel safe in asserting themselves.

Potency: All family members also need to feel that what they contribute will make a difference.

In many cases, wealthy families hire a skilled facilitator to ease this adult-to-adult communication to with the 3Ps. But the principles are something that any family can practice. 

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