Is Someone in Your Family Hurting?

Is someone in your family hurting? That’s a provocative question. The fact is, for almost every family, the answer is yes. Furthermore, if someone in a family is hurting, generally the whole family feels it. Try as we may to sweep it under the rug, the issue seeps back into our brain and preoccupies us. As I advocate for Family Legacy Planning and Business Succession Planning, the reality is that such processes are impeded until we address what’s hurting us.

Last week’s post coincided with Rosh Hashonah (the Jewish New Year), ushering in a season of reflection, repentance, and spirituality. As sundown tonight marks the beginning of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), I’ll continue to honor the spirit of this holy season with an “estate planning” lesson from renowned Rabbi Shlomo Farhi of New York. My daughter Lizzy attended Rabbi Farhi’s class on one of the central themes of this season: “T’shuvah” (Hebrew for Repentance, though the actual translation is to “Return”). During these Holy Days, we are challenged to turn around and return to more righteous living. Rabbi Farhi shared this parable: A tightrope walker walked down the rope, turned around, and walked back up the rope. When asked which was harder, walking down or walking up, the tightrope walker answered: “Neither journey was the hardest part; the hardest part was turning around.” When we want to change course from a path we’re on, the hardest part is to turn around. After that, we’ve accomplished the toughest part of the journey.

A few years ago, I had a wakeup call at the Annual Conference for FOX (Family Office Exchange) where I learned that most families are indeed hurting. The agenda included all the expected topics for high-net-worth families engaged in legacy planning: estate planning, tax planning, family governance, family education, investing, money management, philanthropy, etc. But there was one topic on the agenda that surprised me: addiction. The presentation from addiction counselors generated the greatest interest of all. It turns out that almost every family was dealing with addiction at some level, and that hurt dominated the family’s psyche. As an estate planner, I learned the importance of meeting a family in the place where it is. In my journey to practice “holistic” estate planning, I realize the need to recognize when a family is hurting and accommodate that in the estate plan design and process.

An effective estate plan needs to fit the family’s reality. We need to engage in honest conversations and design an inheritance appropriately. Trust provisions need to address that reality. Making trust distributions outright to an impaired person can be poison to that person. Trustees need to be empowered to adjust distributions to take into consideration a beneficiary’s dependency.

With my daughter Lizzy’s permission (indeed, encouragement), I will share our own family’s struggle with addiction. In the summer of 2021, Lizzy began her season of reflection with an honest look in the mirror and bravely recognized her dependence on alcohol. On August 1, 2021, she took the hardest step and turned away from a behavior she wanted to change. We are very grateful and proud that Lizzy is now on a sobriety journey, her last drink now more than 14 months ago. As she walks the tightrope back to a life without alcohol, we all recognize the risks. But, she accomplished the hardest part when she turned around. Her journey is not easy, but she wisely chose a support system to help her stay on course.

Lizzy has been very public about her battle against alcoholism, in hopes it’ll give others the courage to turn around and follow her path. That’s why she urged me to share this message, hoping it’ll reach someone who may need help and hope. (To learn more of Lizzy’s story, follow her on Instagram at @LizzySavetsky.)

The third prong of the Blum family mission statement is spirituality. In this season of spirituality, I feel moved to send encouragement to all families who are hurting. At The Blum Firm, we have cultivated resources who may be able to help. Please reach out to us if you’d like information on counselors or programs that come highly recommended. And please know that we’re here for you, with both “head“ and “heart,” to help you design an inheritance plan that’s best suited to your family.

Marvin E. Blum

Left: Putting the Blum family’s mission of spirituality into action when Marvin Blum’s daughter Lizzy Savetsky and her family traveled to Israel this summer to dedicate a Torah to the Israeli army. Right: Dr. Ira Savetsky and Lizzy Savetsky in a ritual presentation of the new Torah, celebrated like a wedding.