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Principle 3: Evolve a healthy family wealth culture

It’s fair to say that a culture is built on good communication — in fact, communication is how a culture is created and shared. From our work with many families over the years, we have identified best practices that can yield a family culture that reflects what most wealth creators want for their families and the transfer of their wealth: They want the wealth to be helpful, not harmful. Developing a healthy attitude toward the wealth as a family is an important element in making sure that it will be experienced in a positive manner.

Best practice #1: Preserve family history

Celebrations, milestones, inspirations. Marriages, babies, homes, businesses. These can all be a rich part of a family’s story. Families who are already evolving a healthy family wealth culture tend to place a priority on what sustains and enriches them as a family — which has little to do with material wealth.

Why is the element of “storytelling” so important in a healthy family culture? A key benefit is that a family story “frames” the focus and intent of legacy planning. In the past, clients often wanted to talk about maximizing their investment. However, more and more frequently, when clients begin to have conversations with their young adult children, they focus on the bigger issues of legacy, which almost require the family to begin sharing stories.

How do families get started with the process of sharing and capturing stories? Although many express a desire to preserve and document family history, they frequently find it hard to make it happen. We have developed tools and guidance that can be important first steps on a project that clients will not want to stop.

Best practice #2: Articulate a common purpose

Families that succeed in maintaining their legacy over generations have a shared vision and purpose. And they identify with it as a unifying purpose: It’s why it matters that they stick together as a family.

The challenge in articulating a common purpose is that there is much complexity. It’s important that a family can identify a common purpose clear enough to be actionable, but flexible enough to take into account changing circumstances.

In working with families, we have developed meaningful and fun-to-create visuals or statements that reflect the unique values central to the success of a family, including core principles needed to support the family toward becoming a stronger, more successful whole.

Best practice #3: Foster communication

Sometimes it really is how you say it, not just what you say.

Good communication is critical to a healthy family life. Families that succeed through generational transitions of their legacy have developed real trust — and that trust is built through compassionate and candid conversation. The key to making sure conversations are meaningful and focused on working toward long-term vision and goals is for each family member to recognize that others’ communication styles may be quite different from his or her own.

While it can sometimes be challenging, it is important to see that every style has its strengths and weaknesses and that the healthiest families are those in which all of the styles are operating and honored. We have helped families to recognize, understand and accept others’ communication styles, and how that can drive their conversation, and see what motivates and drives others whose styles are different.


The key word in the principle of “evolve a healthy family wealth culture” is evolve. Just as it takes a considerable amount of time and energy for a family to develop goals and engage in strategic planning that supports their legacy desires, it requires the same commitment for a family to preserve stories and history, articulate their common purpose and foster good communication. Once achieved, your family can know exactly what you mean when you say: “It’s the way we do things around here.”

Talk with your CIBC Private Wealth advisor about all of the resources available to you to implement the legacy planning principles.

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