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Love, Wisdom, Money

Putting Your Family Back in “Family Wealth”

A Series for Successful Family Leaders

Series Overview: Epiphany

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” – Henry Ford

What if your family was more important than money? Sounds foolish, right? You’re probably thinking, Of course, my family is more important than money.

But are they really? If you’re like most sophisticated, affluent people, your wealth plan is focused on the least important aspect of your family wealth: your money. What’s worse is that most personal financial advisors unknowingly have a specialty mentality that segregates your estate in a way that can unintentionally leave your family members out of the loop: confused, unprepared, frustrated, and even bitter.

Imagine how much better off your family would be if you arranged your affairs to intentionally stimulate the emotional and intellectual growth of your family members along with your and their financial growth.

I have been in the family wealth business since 1982 and over the years have discovered that many family leaders intuitively know what their families want and need, but have a hard time implementing a practical path to get there.  There had to be a better way.

For me, it all began as a life insurance agent. The business was fun, I liked the kind of security life insurance brought to my clients, and I made a good living, but I certainly wasn’t doing anything special or innovative.

Then I met a man who was the great-grandson of an inventor. For four generations the family had been reaping the rewards of their predecessors’ family values and patents and had established a formula to create wealth, build upon it, and pass it along. I was intrigued!

Before then, I was under the impression that most wealthy family leaders were either ruthless, lucky, or both. It was in meeting this family that epiphany struck.

Family wealth, even multi-generational family wealth, can be lovingly intentional.

It involves much more than passing on tangible things and money. This family was successful not only because of the business acumen and financial resources they had accumulated over the decades but also because of their love for each other and the wisdom they accumulated and handed down through the generations. They had created a system of success that endured the challenges of good times and bad, personal joy and tragedy, and positioned future family members to do the same.

Around that time I was in the process of helping my two brothers transition the school bus company my father founded, from him to them. What began as my dad transporting a handful of physically and mentally challenged children to school in the family station wagon, had continued to grow into an enterprise operating hundreds of busses in multiple locations as it is today. My father, like so many successful founders, provided the platform, experience, and family values that my brothers built upon.

Suddenly, the life insurance business seemed too limited for me. I saw a need to help families who wanted something more. From my brothers’ experience and some additional research into the needs of closely held businesses, I discovered that most families had a trusted professional or two to help them navigate the nuances of building their family enterprise and attempting to pass it along in the process.

But there was a problem. These professionals were familiar with and focused on their particular specialty (law, accounting, insurance, banking, financial management, etc.), which was all well and good except few of them were privy to the abilities and desires of the other individual family members. And why should they be?

There appeared to be a need for someone to pull it all together as an advocate for the family.

In order to get a better understanding of the various areas of specialization, I emersed myself in an in-depth study of the personal financial planning industry, first earning the holistic designation of Certified Financial Planner (CFP), then delving into taxation, estate planning, and investing, to name a few. I also began interviewing top local specialists in each discipline as a resource to the families I was serving. This included accountants, estate planning, business, and tax attorneys, succession planners, investment advisors, and even psychologists.

Over the years, as I focused on facilitating the practical application and integration of the variety of specialized services available, the same pattern continued of most specialists staying in their lanes and not appearing to see what I saw or taking any action to become a professional interdisciplinary facilitator.

Whenever I would mention integrated, multi-generational family wealth services to these professionals, they would seem to find the conversations interesting and even appealing but rarely saw the value in taking on such an idealistic and complicated effort.

What families needed was something different, something engaging: a big picture, planning and implementation paradigm shift to assist family leaders in efficiently and effectively orchestrating the various aspects of their family wealth (love, wisdom, and money)–a family office.  My firm began to assist them in addressing the urgent and long-range family dynamic, intellectual capital, and financial needs of acting on the imperatives of lifestyle today and continued family wealth protection and growth for the future.

We sought out the best specialty professionals, investments, financial products, and practices of sound financial principles (covered later in this series) and helped our clients and their advisors build robust lifestyle cash flow and balance sheets with a focus on guiding them to their visions of their future and eventually their legacy.

As of the writing of this series, our firm is in its fifth decade of providing practical family wealth-building guidance. We have facilitated the protection and growth of hundreds of high-net-worth families, one at a time. Our clients are family leaders, genuine stewards, we call them Family Fiduciaries, whose main objective is to educate and prepare their family members for whatever comes next while building their family financial enterprise.

This series Love, Wisdom, Money: Putting Your Family Back in “Family Wealth” is dedicated to the growth of healthy family wealth. It is for all those who are frustrated with the often dysfunctional state of the way personal financial guidance is delivered and are looking for a better path. If you feel you are not doing all you can to enrich your family today and prepare them for the years to come and would like to learn more stay tuned.

James F. Thomas, Jr. (Buddy) is the Founder and Chief Planning Officer of Superior Planning. He can be reached at