Values: Shaping Your Legacy With Intention

Kelly Arrillaga, Family Engagement and Governance Consultant, Contributor, J.P. Morgan Wealth Management
March 13, 2020

This article was featured in our Summer 2020 issue of Spectrum which can be viewed in full here


Although many families find conversations about money uncomfortable, the reality is that money and values are closely intertwined. A lifetime of experiences and traditions thoughtfully shared and brought to life through family discussion is an ideal vehicle for communicating values across generations and building a foundation for financial decisions.

At the same time, experts say that 90% of intergenerational wealth transfers fail by the third generation. This failure is due to a lack of communicating values and preparing heirs — without a framework for making financial decisions, the next generation is left on a path without a road map.

While most families feel they know their own value system, following an intentional process of reflection to help identify your family values and effectively communicate them to your loved ones is a valuable step.

Exploring your history

The process of exploring family stories and experiences can illuminate your family’s unspoken values and their source. Questions to consider include:

  • What is the story around your wealth? What struggles did you and your family encounter along the way?
  • Did you receive support — either monetary or moral — from your family?
  • How did your parents communicate about and deal with money?

Take the example of a client who grew up observing their parents’ frugal habits. As a result, the client developed an implicit value of frugality, despite being quite wealthy. The fear of scarcity had been amplified and carried forward for generations without the family stopping to reflect upon where that value came from and whether it should be carried forward.

Defining your family values

As you think about your children and future heirs, what kind of people do you want them to be? What do you want your family to represent? We encourage our clients to engage the entire family in the conversation by asking:

  • How would you define your family’s wealth beyond the financial component?
  • What are your favorite family traditions and why?
  • How do you define success?

Each person has their own story, and family members will have different perspectives. However, the goal with this step is to actively practice sharing, listening and understanding across generations. By encouraging the participation of the family as a whole, each individual can feel empowered to contribute toward a shared lasting vision.

Formalize your family values

Once your family has defined their history and values, you can consider how to craft a family mission statement together. By focusing on three to five key values, you can more consistently incorporate those values into your family’s communication and decision-making process. We often hear about themes of independence, work ethic, self-confidence, kindness and enjoying life, but there’s no right answer. Your values are unique to your family.

Share your family values

Communication is key

The most powerful way to communicate your family’s values to your loved ones and trusted advisors is through storytelling. Rather than simply making a list, telling stories brings these beliefs to life. The listener can engage with the narrative, visualize themselves in your place and empathize with your emotions at the time. Scientists have found that when we listen to a story, parts of our brain are activated as if we were experiencing the event ourselves. First Republic can support you in actively sharing your values and providing guidance on best practices based on your family structure.

Practice makes perfect

Family values aren’t a one-time discussion; making a habit of using your family values as a guide for financial decisions ensures consistency and accountability. The discipline around referencing your values and stories when making decisions will set the course for ensuring alignment with and sustainability of your family’s vision.

Collaboration with trusted advisors

While it’s important to share your values with your family, incorporating those values into your estate plan is equally important. There are a number of ways you can accomplish this, and First Republic can help you successfully navigate the process.

At First Republic, it’s our privilege to support you in exploring your values and stories. Whether you’re establishing values for the first time or needing a refresh, we can help you successfully navigate these conversations around your legacy.


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