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Developing a Family Constitution

I was inspired to create a family constitution after reading the book “Family Fortunes: How Family Enterprises Thrive Across Generations” by John J. Bowen Jr. and Cliff Oberlin. The book provides comprehensive guidance on sustaining a family business over decades through implementing effective governance structures.

A key principle emphasized is establishing a formal constitution document to codify the family’s core values, vision, policies, and procedures. This constitution provides stability and continuity across generations as the family grows and evolves. It serves as a compass to guide major decisions and conflict resolution.


Reasons to Develop a Family Constitution


Reason #1: Defines family values and priorities. A constitution clearly articulates the central principles and beliefs that are most important to a family. This provides clarity, alignment, and focus among family members.

Reason #2: Provides guidance during major transitions. Life events like marriages, divorces, births, deaths, or illness can be very challenging and emotional. Having an established family constitution helps provide direction and comfort during difficult transitions and times of grief.

Reason #3: Facilitates communication and problem-solving. Referring back to the constitution when conflicts arise helps identify common ground based on shared values and goals. This enables more constructive dialogue and compromise.

Reason #4: Ensures continuity across generations. Formally documenting and passing down a family constitution to children and grandchildren helps maintain a sense of heritage, identity, and purpose across generations. It connects new generations to the family’s legacy.

A thoughtfully crafted family constitution articulates what matters most to a family. This document serves as a trusted framework for navigating major milestones, resolving conflicts, strengthening communication, and sustaining family bonds across generations.


How to Develop a Family Constitution


Step #1: Define your family’s central purpose and mission statement. This captures the essence of what your family stands for at its core.

Step #2: Determine high-level guiding principles and values. These are the key attitudes, attributes, and beliefs you aim to uphold as a family, like respect, integrity, service, stewardship, etc. The guiding principles that I instilled into my family’s constitution are the 5 F’s (Family, Faith, Friends, Fitness, Financials).

Step #3: Establish shared goals you want to accomplish over time as a unified family unit. These could include financial goals as well as aspirational objectives like volunteering, traveling together annually, or prioritizing educational excellence.

Step #4: Outline expectations around education, career paths, financial behaviors, and ethical conduct. This clarifies important priorities parents have for raising children and passing down values.

Step #5: Describe formal processes for how your family will communicate, make decisions collaboratively, and resolve conflict in a fair and respectful manner. Well-defined procedures create stability.

Step #6: Identify traditions, rituals, and celebrations that are particularly meaningful for your family. These could be annual events and observances that build identity, cohesiveness, and happy memories across generations.

Step #7: Revisit the constitution regularly as a family and update components as needed. Family constitutions should evolve as families grow and mature over decades. Annual reviews ensure it stays relevant.

Creating a robust family constitution involves articulating shared purpose, defining guiding principles, setting goals, aligning expectations, establishing group processes, identifying traditions, and revisiting regularly. It provides a strong foundation for family governance and communication.


Handling Resistance to a Family Constitution


Strategy #1: Emphasize the constitution is a collaborative process with input and ideas welcomed from all family members. This is not parents dictating rigid rules but rather a shared document.

Strategy #2: Focus on articulating overarching positive purposes rather than enforcing strict rules. Constitutions work best as guiding vision statements, not punitive tools.


Strategy #3: Have family meetings to explain benefits in terms of strengthening family bonds, communication, harmony, and providing a stable support framework for raising resilient children.


Strategy #4: Start simple with a 1-2 page constitution focused on core values and overall vision. Allow the document to grow organically over time as families evolve and buy-in increases.


In summary, resistance can be minimized by promoting inclusive collaboration, emphasizing shared positive purpose over inflexible rules, clearly communicating benefits, and taking a phased approach to organize and prioritize content. Patience and listening are key.


Conclusion


A thoughtfully developed family constitution outlines timeless principles to guide communication, decision-making, conflict resolution, and continuity across generations. It provides a strong foundation for family governance as members and assets change over decades. Partnering with experienced financial advisors and wealth counselors can provide valuable outside perspective when creating a constitution tailored to your family's needs and goals.


In closing, a constitution can help strengthen family bonds, harmony, resilience, and purpose across generations. It serves as a north star for navigating both challenges and milestones together as an extended family.







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