Ever since Cain and Abel, siblings have been rivaling and causing their parents grief.
Most parents with multiple children realize some of their children more naturally gravitate to being givers…others to being takers…and still others fall somewhere in between. But when they all grow up and you are dealing with adult children – either in a family business or when planning your estate – things can really get interesting.
At first blush, a giver might sound ideal. This is your child that is generous, often patient with others and can be quite thoughtful. Be careful, though. As he gets older and experiences getting taken advantage of, the giver may also become passively aggressive (nice on the outside, scheming on the inside), sabotaging his “taking” siblings, while keeping a smile on his face. Make sure that if you have a giver, he doesn’t grow bitter and resentful on the inside.
And what about your child that is more of a taker? Who wants to be known as a taker? This label conjures up images of a self-centered exploiter, constantly in attack mode to get what is his (plus some more). But keep in mind that your taker may also be the one more likely to be goal oriented, proactive, aggressive and persistent – all traits that can work for good in any situation.
I think the keys to giving the giving and taking balance the best opportunity to work out in any family are communication, consideration and commitment.
1. Communication. Talk openly with your children about what you observe. This needs to be done early in your children’s lives so that the negative side of either tendency can be identified and avoided. If your children are older – say adults - these habits are going to be pretty baked in by this point and this kind of conversation could prove pretty difficult to do productively. But what if you find yourself in a family business together and you cannot avoid the discussion? In that case, hire a third party to guide your efforts. Find someone who can speak bluntly to everyone in the room, but who understands your desire to foster long-term family unity.
2. Consideration. Your children each came into this world with a unique mixture of character traits and tendencies. These require careful development and guidance over time. Of course, you want your adult children to understand one another; but just as importantly, as adults they are going to have to learn to respect and value one another’s differences.
3. Commitment. At the end of the day, your adult children – whether working together in a business or estate plan - won’t work without commitment from all sides. Your children are going to have to commit to one another to work together, and you (parents) are going to have to commit to do whatever it takes to create an environment conducive to that.
A significant part of that parental commitment is how you choose to plan your estate. Don’t assume that simply adding everything up and dividing by two is the right thing to do. Your very different children will likely have very different desires when it comes to your estate – so talk to them about it.
If significant differences arise, and you can’t figure out how to divide the baby (or business), consider using life insurance or some other form of liquidity to equalize an otherwise unequal inheritance. Start working together…now…as a family…to make sure givers and takers can work together to strengthen your family, not pull it apart.