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…

The DISC assessment is a useful tool for helping families, trustees, and family office or business professionals understand how and why different people process and behave differently.

The DISC assessment is a simple, powerful tool for identifying how different people make sense of the world differently. I've used it for years with students, corporate teams, and family groups. This post is meant to introduce DISC, show some of what it can do, and explore a bit how a family office or other advisor might use it with a family or within a family enterprise. What is DISC? The DISC framework was originally created by Dr. William Marston, a physiological psychologist, in 1928. Although he theorized the four basic behavioral types that DISC describes, he did not create an assessment tool--others have done that based on his work. As a result, various assessment tools exist. If you Google "DISC assessment," you will find many different options. (For a useful history of the development of the DISC profile, see this timeline.) I personally use a version of DISC by…

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…

Two Partisan Perceptions tools from the conflict literature can help families in a variety of situations, including understanding "in-law issues"

Lots of families in business worry about in-laws. What if a spouse has married into the family "just for the money?" What if he or she tries to "take over" or is overly opinionated? What if the in-law creates conflict? What if he or she is a "gold-digger" or spendthrift? Although less often discussed, in-laws have worries about business families as well. What is this family business or enterprise, and why does everyone seem so worried about it? Who are all these lawyers, advisors, and other professionals circling around my spouse and his or her family? Why does it seem like everyone is so secretive? Or uptight? Or obsessive about money? Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit The conflict and negotiation literature has long focused on such examples of "partisan perceptions"--situations in which two parties have very different views on the same subject, and in which those views…

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…