OCEAN CITY – Everyone in your family knows the values you share — right? Not always, and many families are finding a remedy in family mission statements. No longer emblazoned in Latin below a coat of arms, the family mission statement can impart the values, integrity and ethics that help define the family. It’s the kind of declaration rarely found in a traditional financial and estate plan.
In fact, family mission statements can be as personal as the families they reflect. And they can include fun family traditions or allegiances, even if it’s just a college alma mater. Still, as individual in tone and content as they may be, they should capture the true core values and goals of the family to be successful and long-lasting.
A family mission statement can help quantify a family’s intangible assets, giving guidance to future generations and providing context for the executor or trustee responsible for managing the distribution of the estate. More important, the process of drafting a statement helps focus a family’s day-to-day decision-making and provides a framework for passing values — and transferring wealth — to future generations.
The most effective mission statements are those developed with input from the entire family. Of course, you need to direct the process of creating the family mission statement, so before you sit down with your children, think long and hard about the values that you want to pass on.
To encourage active participation, frame the first meeting as a brainstorming session, writing down every suggestion. Then use future meetings to pare the list down to four or five key points that everyone can agree on. Craft the mission statement so that the wording is flexible enough to encompass broad goals, but not so expansive that it loses its meaning. Give everyone a copy of the final draft and refer to it often, especially when meeting with your financial advisor and legal professionals, to ensure that investment and estate planning decisions reflect the family’s overall mission.
Once written, family mission statements can prove useful in a broad range of situations.
The financial advisor may also find them useful as guides in helping family members establish ways to support shared values
As your family grows and changes, the articulation of its goals and how they are achieved may also shift. Revisiting and updating your mission statement might become an annual event.
(A Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Advisor. She can be reached at 410-213-8520.)