Throughout my career I have worked in treatment modalities that transcended Socio-Economic Status (SES) lines. In Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MRFIT), Metabolic Nutrition Program (MNP), hospice, etc., people from all walks of life sought me out for help regarding issues arising around their wealth. On one hand the issues and concerns of family therapy are the same for all families regardless of SES. On the other hand, there are issues and concerns specific to SES lines. In the evolution of this Family Financial Therapy, I have found that getting wealthy families off their home turf and to a neutral “retreat” for two to five days with their trusted counsel (especially the family’s financial planner and tax lawyer) is by far the best route for success on levels both familial and financial.

With regard to issues specific to higher SES families there are certain inter-generational and intra-generational problems that seem to occur often. By way of example, succession issues are a typical inter-generational hot button. Who will succeed whom? Due to its importance in continuation of family business and wealth this question is often dealt with legally in a more or less timely fashion by the founder, the lawyers and financial planners. Founders are often concerned with the well-documented concern of “rags to riches to rags in three generations.” However, relinquishing the reins in a timely manner is often difficult for founders and can result in business and family difficulties. In addition, the preparation of soon to be disappointed children (who were not selected as successors) is often put off until after the founder’s demise. At that point, it is no longer possible to explain with love that the needs of the business are different from the needs of the family. Not being prepped, encouraged and supported in finding their own mission in life leaves many of these heirs devastated. Havoc often results, leading to costly legal debacles that would have been better handled years before in a retreat with a psychologist, family financial planner and lawyer. Though the issues attendant with succession planning are specific to extraordinarily wealthy families, the emotional sequelae are similar to family therapy issues evidenced in all SES groups. This is but one example of inter-generational conundrums.

There are also intra-generational stressors. Often second generation heirs suffer from a host of wealthy-family-specific issues. These heirs did not create the fortune. Heirs may have issues establishing their self-worth and entitlement to the vast sums of money to which they have access. Though often it seems that these individuals act as if entitled, they are often shielded from realities of the workaday world. When coupled with the access these fortunes provide, and compounded with the endless potential for buffers from the world, there is great potential for disaster. The footpaths of these disasters include drug addiction and/or the syndrome of “too much noblesse without enough oblige,” or just plain unhappy people. Though often overlooked, within these afflictions is the reality that they are the direct results of feelings of unworthiness and other family issues (e.g. hidden familial beliefs about money, love and work). These unspoken family beliefs need to be aired and solutions brainstormed by all concerned. Often times establishing a “family vision” during a retreat can help. Hashing out the moral values of the family and the legacy they wish to establish by a healthy use of the family’s wealth is curative in itself.

By way of example the result of a “family vision” established during retreat can lead to the establishment of a family Foundation. Foundations can help to ameliorate some of the concerns of self-worth and entitlement by allowing productive roles for all family members – not just the successor to the boardroom throne. This becomes increasingly important when one considers second generation issues of: spousal involvement in the family business/finances, divorced spousal ownership issues, or issues relating to financial or business involvements of children of a spouse from another marriage. Obviously, these problems increase in number and complexity as a family approaches third generation issues of entitlement and involvement with more distant relations. The establishment of semi-or quarter yearly retreats can lighten the load of these and other concerns by providing support for each family member’s concerns, growth and individuation. Moreover, retreats establish a family’s style of conflict resolution that will serve the family for generations.

In addition, there is the tendency for families and their planners to attempt to control many potential problems by legal and/or financial devices alone. While these often look good on paper or on a spreadsheet they miss unforeseen consequences of the emotional impact on the family and its members. The careful family consideration of these devices at the point of their creation can greatly reduce unforeseen collateral damage. Though surrounded and obfuscated by money these issues are in essence issues of the currency of love, trust and familial vision (or the lack thereof). As these emotional issues are often the tinder for lawsuits costing multiple millions of dollars, and that upon completion of lawsuits these family emotional issues remain as residual pain and suffering leaving the individuals with the necessity of healing, highlights the importance of proactively defusing them. Ironically, what needs still to be healed is often that which fired the lawsuits in the first place. The currency of love is often battled out symbolically in the currency of money and/or power. As an experienced psychologist, I know many, if not all, could often have been less financially and emotionally painfully resolved in a Family Financial Retreat.