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Drs. Pat & Paul Frishkoff
Globally-Experienced Consultants Specializing In Family Businesses

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Family Taboos - Are They Holding Your Business Back?

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The word taboo, which means forbidden, came to us from the South Seas. Yet, it is right here in our own family and closely held businesses where taboos can block smooth functioning and the succession process.

Four common unspoken topics are: money, death, mistakes and feelings:


Money is a powerful symbol in our society. In some families, it is confused with love-"I inherited less of the company stock than my brother, so they must have loved me less."

Giving is often conditional, even at an early age-"You were a good girl, so here's your allowance." No wonder that heirs-children and, especially, spouses of children,-are reluctant to ask about parents' estate plans. They could be accused of being greedy.

Money may also be muddled with power, status, security or freedom. What role does it play in your family, and how does it affect the way that your family discusses finances?


Death is often an avoided topic-as if ignoring it might protect us against it. We sometimes hear founders of businesses talk about: "IF I die," as if it's an option like adding a product line!

Failure to accept, discuss and plan for death leads to the stifling of emotions. It also causes poor estate planning, so that the next generations are ill-served and the government unnecessarily enriched.


Mistakes are only human, though often unacknowledged. Leaders of companies, in particular, may fear that honest admission of mistakes may be judged as personal weakness.

Members of the younger generation, however, often say that what they'd truly like from their parents is an occasional admission of error. This makes parents seem more human and allows the younger generation to feel that they, too, can be held to a standard of less-than-perfection.


Feelings are expressed differently in each family. Which of these feelings is welcomed and which is forbidden in your family? Anger…sadness or grief…fear…love…joy or enthusiasm?

How might those feelings which are taboo in your family or business interfere with communications, planning succession or enjoyment of what you have achieved?

Overcoming taboos isn't easy because most of them are long-standing in family or closely held businesses. One method that works is a family business retreat, a one-day or weekend meeting in a safe, neutral environment with a trusted professional facilitator. All the "stakeholders"-those family members who are financially affected-of the business should be present.

Working through and overcoming taboos will have a huge payoff for the continuity of your family's business and the pleasure that you derive from it. Why not start now?

As printed in CPAmerica's Succession Solutions Newsletter

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