Early on in this Family Legacy Planning series, I stressed the importance of each family creating a Family Mission Statement. The process involves (1) discovering the values that family members hold in common, (2) jointly developing a vision for the kind of family they want to be, and (3) merging those values and vision into a written expression of the family’s guiding principles. As each family member embraces that mission, it helps the family develop a core. Indeed, the mission statement guides the family through decisions and helps keep it on track and unified. Ideally, the family mission guides the whole estate planning process.
The Blum family adopted a three-pronged mission statement:
- Productive Work
- Living a Meaningful & Spiritual Life
For us, it all starts with relationships. I’d like to dive deeper into that first prong of our mission statement. The seed for it was actually planted years ago when Fort Worth community leader Gretchen Denny said to me: “Marvin, it’s all about relationships.” That statement struck me as profound, yet a bit puzzling. I was too young to fully understand where Gretchen was coming from. Why did that beat out everything else we strive for in life? Gretchen, widowed at a young age when her attorney husband Sam Denny died way too early, realized that more than anything else, relationships are what fulfills us and nurtures us. As I’ve gotten older, I now get it. That’s why it earned the position of first place in our mission statement.
Harvard professor and author Arthur Brooks supports my thesis in his article in The Atlantic “10 Practical Ways to Improve Happiness.” In addition to being there to support and nurture us, relationships actually tops the list on how to increase our happiness. An international team of researchers identified 68 ways to raise happiness, then narrowed it to ten and ranked them. Note how Brooks’ description of number one and number two echo my emphasis on relationships:
- Invest in family and friends. The research is clear that though our natural impulse may be to buy stuff, we should invest instead in improving our closest relationships by sharing experiences and freeing up time to spend together.
- Join a club. The “social capital” you get from voluntarily and regularly associating with other people, whether or not you do so through a formal club, has long been known to foster a sense of belonging and protect against loneliness and isolation.
I am witnessing firsthand how relationships are enriching my life. It started 47 years ago when I entered The University of Texas Law School and bonded with an extraordinary group of classmates. Over the years, those friendships have deepened. Thanks to the efforts of my best friend Talmage Boston (“the connector”), we have not only remained connected, but we continue to grow closer. The reason those friendships have grown into lifelong relationships is because a core group of us share meaningful experiences with each other. Certainly, sharing the law school experience was bonding, but we are even more glued together because of regular activities we do together, especially an annual canoe trip on the Guadalupe River. We call ourselves the “Canoe Brothers.”
On those canoe trips, we open our hearts and minds to hear each other’s life stories. We each bring our own values and opinions. We agree, we disagree, we debate, but we do it all with respect. Through this shared canoe experience, we build trust, and trust is the foundation for a lasting relationship. All of this is possible because we make the time to be together and share experiences. The renowned author Malcolm Gladwell expressed it perfectly: “You can’t share values with others until you share meaningful experiences with them. It is through these meaningful experiences that you come to know what their values are. Those you agree with and those you don’t; but the relationship, trust and friendship has been shared through the experiences first.”
As I urge families to engage in a legacy-building process, I stress the importance of family enrichment activities. Like the bonding that Canoe Brothers share on the Guadalupe, families likewise need intentional, regular experiences together. At The Blum Firm, we encourage clients to weave this priority into the estate plan. The safest way to foster lasting family unity is to set aside funds in a FAST trust dedicated to paying for family meetings, meaningful group travel, and other family enrichment. Endowing family experiences strengthens the ties that bind us. It’s the best inheritance you can leave your heirs.
Marvin E. Blum
Marvin Blum (back row, fifth from left) with law school classmates, now the “Canoe Brothers.” The motto on the t-shirts tells the bond of these relationships: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity! Psalms 133:1”