Are family office professionals, advisors, and trustees unintentionally making family members and systems more fragile by coddling?

I've recently read two books in close succession that have resonated off of each other and made me really wonder about the unintended consequences of the work done by many family offices, family advisors, and trustees: Antifragile, by Nassim Taleb, and The Coddling of the American Mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. There is a lot one could say about each book, and I will undoubtedly return to some of their themes in other posts. (I have some reservations about each book, but will hold those for later as well.) But for now, each raises a fundamental question for family office professionals and advisors: are the interventions you're making, the support and education you're offering, the forms of assistance to the family that you're providing, examples of iatrogenics--harm more than help, treatments in which the healer (unintentionally) causes more damage than good?…

What is the focus of a "trust company"? The trust. What is the focus of a "trusted company"? The quality of the relationship between the trustee and the beneficiary.

I recently began saying that I do not aspire to head up a trust company; I aspire to be a "trusted company." This may seem like word smithing, but I think it’s important. There is a subtle but powerful difference between a trust company and a trusted company. The former implies that the object of the company’s attention is—trusts. A “trust company” administers trusts. That’s what it does. That’s the focus of its efforts. In many ways, the phrase “trust company” suggests that the entity’s clients are the trusts that it oversees. If a PTC aspires to be a “trusted…

This post introduces an essay on the key questions around distributions: Who decides? When? How much?

Much has been written for trustees about the distribution function: how to understand various distribution standards (e.g., health, education and maintenance); how to deal with difficult or incapacitated beneficiaries; how to balance intergenerational considerations in making distributions. This note considers the distribution function from a different perspective: that of a responsible adult beneficiary. Although this may be the most seldom theorized or discussed scenario, it is also the most common. And in this least problematic…

This post introduces an essay on creating a prenup system that preserves human, not just financial, capital.

Many multigenerational business families decide at some point to encourage family members to enter into premarital agreements. Often families are motivated by one experience with a “bad divorce” – whether that means a divorce that disrupts the family or business, removes an unexpected amount of assets from the family’s control, or causes undue suffering for children or grandchildren. Particularly as enterprising families move into their second, third, or fourth generations (and have therefore had such…

This post introduces a book chapter I recently contributed on how mediators and other conflict professionals can work with family businesses.

I recently wrote a chapter on the role mediators can play in family business transitions, published in Susan Gary (ed.), Mediation for Estate Planners: Managing Family Conflict. The chapter looks at the sources of conflict in family businesses and how mediators and other conflict professionals might help. It then examines, however, the various reasons that family members may not want to turn to a mediator: they may not want to admit that a "dispute" exists; the family business transition may be gradual, whereas most conflict interventions are acute; the family may not want a "neutral," instead seeking a professional that is more interventionist or that more often offers an opinion. The chapter then goes on, however, to argue that conflict engagement professionals have a range of skills and techniques that can still be extremely helpful to business families, even if not through traditional conflict management roles such as mediation. These…