by Dr Susan Massenzio &

Dr Keith Whitaker

We began on the path of writing together by reflecting on the power that giving plays within families with significant wealth. Whether annual exclusion gifts or larger gifts, we saw that often these gifts left recipients feeling unsure about the “strings attached” or the giver’s expectations, and that often givers themselves felt anxious and even remorseful about their giving.


We also knew that giving can be done well and as a result can strengthen family relationships. We captured some of the ways of giving well in our first book, Cycle of the Gift, and then again in Complete Family Wealth. The key considerations in giving wisely are


  • Who is doing the giving? What do you seek to achieve with this gift? Does it fit your values? Does making this gift give you joy?

  • Who are the recipients? Where are they in their lives’ development? What are their characters? Are they ready to receive well?

  • How will you communicate the gift? No gift speaks for itself. Communicate more rather than less, earlier rather than later.

  • Can you let go? None of us can control the future. So many gifts are marred by giver’s desire to control. If you follow the steps above, then you will more likely feel you have done what you can do and can let go.


We wrote Cycle of the Gift from the perspective of the giver. After it was published, many readers told us that, in reading it, they felt that for the first time they also got to look at giving through the eyes of recipients. That insight led us to write our second book, Voice of the Rising Generation, the main lessons from which also appear in Complete Family Wealth. They include


  • How important it is to think of every generation as having a capacity to rise, to grow, to find its own path, and to flourish. That is why we use the term “rising” rather than “next,” which has the potential to make later generations feel inferior to the “founders.”

  • For rising generation family members, “Pray that the road be long, full of adventures, full of knowledge.” We underscore the importance of finding your way, your work, and your relationships. Very often these discoveries come through spending some time away from the family enterprise.

  • For parents of rising generation family members, we believe that staying centered and affirming them contributes deeply to their flourishing.Remember your younger self and what you needed to rise. Tell rising generation members stories about your journey.


By focusing on giving and receiving, it did not escape our notice that for many families these activities take place through the intermediation of trusts. By the third generation, most of the families we have worked with hold over 90% of their financial assets in trust. And yet, because trusts are usually opaque, and most family members shy away from talking about them, many beneficiaries find their trusts to be a troublesome complication in their lives. This is not a good combination. To address this challenge we wrote Family Trusts (with co-author Hartley Goldstone), the core lessons of which appear in the chapter on Trustees and Beneficiaries in Complete Family Wealth:


  • The primary work is to make a trust a human rather than merely legal relationship. Or in other language we often use, to turn the trust from a transfer (a legal transaction) into a gift with spirit.

  • For grantors, you can communicate your intent by writing a Letter of Wishes for each trust. Or add these two lines to the beginning of each trust: “This trust is a gift of love. Its purpose is to enhance the lives of the beneficiary.”

  • For beneficiaries and trustees, read your trusts. Make plans to meet at least annually. Seek to understand each other: the trustee should understand the beneficiary’s life, dreams, and needs, while the beneficiary should understand the trustee’s duties.


Based on speaking with many families about these practices, it is our firm belief that if families pay attention to giving wisely, receiving well, and making trusts gifts with spirit, many of the negative consequences that attend significant wealth can be avoided and great benefits, to individuals and families, can be gained.

© Copyright 2018 G9