What is Family Governance? — Susan Schoenfeld

Point of View
4 min readAug 2, 2023
Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

Susan R. Schoenfeld, CEO and Founder of Wealth Legacy Advisors LLC serves as a ‘thought partner’ to families of wealth through personal attention and human spirit. Susan is an award-winning Thought Leader; she provides guidance on legacy, next-generation, stewardship, governance, leadership succession, and philanthropy. She recently spoke on Family Governance at Opal Group’s Family Office Forum.

What is governance? As a term, governance is really just a fancy way of saying, how do we as a family make decisions? How do we as a family establish structures and a framework for generations who come after us to make decisions after the referees — the matriarch and patriarch — are no longer with us? After the referees are gone, the opportunity for bedlam can ensue.

The process of establishing a governance framework is best done before a crisis happens. It’s best achieved when a family is thinking about how as our family grows, whether through marriage or through births, how can we as a family, establish a system and a framework for the way we’re going to govern ourselves, the way we’re going to live our lives and make decisions, whether about a common investment vehicle, or a common vacation house. As I’m sure many of you can relate to, sometimes the biggest issues are who gets to redecorate the vacation house, or who gets to spend Christmas week at the family vacation house, or the prime summer week at the family lake house, to the exclusion of the others.

Establishing that framework before there’s a crisis is critical. I worked with a family a number of years ago; there was a son and two daughters. And the daughters in their youth had been sent away to boarding school on another continent and ended up marrying and settling there. Their children didn’t even know their cousins who were the offspring of the son who grew up in their home country.

The first family meeting that I organized for them was really a way to get them to know each other and get them to learn to trust each other a little bit in a in a non-threatening way. And through that process, we established a family council and a family assembly as a way of providing representative government so that these families could come together and effectively make decisions going forward about their shared investment assets and their shared common assets.

Susan Schoenfeld, a public speaker & thought partner to families of wealth and their advisors, is an award-winning thought leader. Susan’s switch from successful estate planning attorney and CPA to a trusted family advisor and thought-partner was inspired by families of wealth asking her searching questions beyond estate tax planning. As a conflict-free advisor who provides no investment, tax, or legal advice and sells no product, Susan shares her insights directly with wealthy families and with financial services experts. She is active as a keynote speaker and a leader of break-out sessions and workshops at conferences throughout the US.

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