A Family Vision Statement can be any non-legal written direction made by a “senior generation” (e.g., mom and dad) to the named beneficiaries of the senior generation’s legal estate plan detailing how an inheritance should be used following death. The Statement is directed towards whomever is receiving the inheritance, whether children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, siblings or friends. In this non-legal document, the senior generation can articulate how one’s deeply-held spiritual, moral and ethical beliefs impact how they wish the receiving generation to use the inheritance. In many families, these deeply-held spiritual, moral and ethical beliefs of the “receiving” generation are different from the senior generation. The purpose of the Family Vision Statement is therefore to give the receiving generation non-legally binding direction as to how the senior generation would like the inheritance used consistent with the beliefs of the senior generation.
A Family Vision Statement might include answers to the following questions:
- Should the children plan to retain the ownership of certain unique assets, such as the family farm, family cabin, or even stock in a closely-held company?
- Is it the expectation that a certain portion of the remaining assets be allocated to charity, and the rest used for the family? If there is an expectation of charitable contributions, should the charities be chosen by the clients, or by the client’s children?
- Should the assets be used to increase the standard of living enjoyed by the “first” generation (children) or should some amounts be earmarked for the “second” generation (grandchildren)? Relatedly, should assets be allocated for specific uses, such as:
- Educational costs of younger generations (grandchildren)?
- Annual family vacations?
- Annual charitable activities (e.g., serving Thanksgiving dinner together at a homeless shelter)?
These statements are tremendously helpful in providing guidelines for the receiving generation. We therefore encourage our clients to consider preparing a statement as part of a comprehensive estate plan, and then updating that statement from time to time.