A Family Mission Statement

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OCEAN CITY — In all walks of life, the family is a powerful unit. Today, a growing number of families are putting that power to work by adopting family mission statements.

"Businesses have used mission statements to define a common purpose and as anchoring points for many years — and that’s exactly the way families are using them now," explains Stacy Allred, director of the Wealth Structuring Group at Merrill Lynch.

Some families look for ways to ensure that future generations will inherit values along with money, or they may seek to build a philanthropic legacy. Co-owners of a family business or a large estate may hope to prevent conflicts, or may prescribe a method of resolving any that arise. A mission statement can provide foundational concepts that help clarify many decisions down the line. For example, it can begin to outline the way your family wants its money to be used — whether for education, entrepreneurship or philanthropy.

"Every family can benefit from a mission statement, regardless of level of wealth," Allred says. "Coming together behind a shared purpose strengthens the bonds within the family and also guides the family and individual members through daily and major life decisions to help realize its goals."

Family statements can come in all shapes and sizes, but there are rules of thumb that all families should keep in mind. Here, Allred outlines three steps to creating an effective family mission statement. Next week we will look at five more steps to consider.

1. Involve everyone. Ideally, the entire family should have a hand in developing the mission statement.

2. Define your values. Ask each family member: "What would you like this family to stand for? What are your aspirations for the family as a whole and for yourself?" Family values can range from overarching characteristics — integrity, strong work ethic, giving back — to more personal, experience-based considerations, Allred says, who notes that ensuring that a family legacy serves as a positive force for family members is a common consideration.

3. Think ahead. Consider your family’s long-term goals. Allred says. "Look at long-term and even longer-term goals, from a decade to 30 years. What do you want for your family at those times? What kind of legacy do you want to leave them? "

(A Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Advisor, who can be reached at 410-213-8520.)

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