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How can you bring arguing heirs together?

Agriculture.com Staff 11/14/2013 @ 1:37pm

By Dr. Donald J. Jonovic


You might be interested in a letter I sent to my children who are unable to get along. I want to start clarifying responsibilities and pay, but they are resisting. Two of them are actually refusing to help.

“Jealousy, resentment, selfish ambition, dishonesty, assumptions, unreasonableness, condemning, anger, scolding, controlling, antagonism, discord, persecution, gossip, hatred, greed, and countless other such behaviors are evil-doers. Dump them in the swamp! We give our friends more forgiveness and room to be who they are than we give each other as siblings, in-laws, or parents.

“Instead, praise each other’s accomplishments, give attaboys and job well dones, show compassion for each other, get the chip off your shoulders, and forgive each other with the full knowledge that no one is perfect, including you. It will surprise you how much better emotionally you feel and grow as a positive person.

“Some of you are parents and some will soon be. May you pass on the foundation of unconditional love of family and extended family to your children. It is a gift to treasure and share.

“Think about people who never get anything from their families, including love. I bet they wish they were you!”


From M.C.’s perspective, her children are needlessly tearing themselves apart in a world of blessing, opportunity, and plenty.

It’s not some evil gene in farm-owning families that drives this common preference for righteousness over common good, however.

The problem is driven much more by the careless blending of economic and emotional life than it is by inbred selfishness or greed.

Like so many farm owning parents, M.C. and her husband probably mixed the desire to express love for their children with the need to lead a business team. While they did that, they failed to teach four facts of family business life that are critical for heirs (and parents) to understand if the partnership is to work.

Is there a solution for M.C. and her family? Possibly, but she and her husband will have to be willing to apply – and her children to accept – some tough love. These four facts of life may require another letter and lots of straight conversation.

Fact 1: Equality of love does not imply equality of ownership or influence. Future leaders of the business will have to be chosen, and that choice will be based on ability, not our love for you. Distribution of the assets WE built will be based first on what’s good for the business and second on our love. Distribution of ownership of what YOU build will be openly discussed and will be fair.

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