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How can you bring arguing heirs together?

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.

Fact 2: Gift and compensation are very different concepts.
When something is given as an expression of our love, it’s a gift. When
something is provided as a reward for your effort, it is compensation. We try
to be equal with the former. The latter depends on you.

Fact 3: Age does, in fact, make a difference. Older siblings
are likely to have more experience, maturity, and skill. Therefore, they are
likely to have more responsibility, and this may be a permanent (but not
guaranteed) fact. If we grow the business, our younger children will have
plenty to do.

Fact 4: Individuals who cannot cooperate and work to settle
business differences constructively will be asked to leave the business, but
you will always have our love and be a member of our family.

M.C.’s letter is a start at this, but they still face a
challenge to fix the problems created by years of confusing family and business
values. Still, the longest journey starts with that one, first step.

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