In the introduction to her book, A Wealth of Possibilities: Navigating Family, Money, and Legacy, Ellen Miley Perry explains that “few families of wealth devote the same intensity, energy and commitment to their human assets—their family members—as they devote to their financial assets.” Perry believes that wealth is a magnifier, and in the context of families, “individuals flourish when they have a strong sense of individual identity, well-defined and pursued interests of their own, the satisfaction of hard work and productivity in life and, most important, a strong connection to other family members.” She believes that it’s the “most important job of the second generation to develop human capital with the same energy and intention that the first generation used to generate the financial capital.” Perry calls on her own family’s tragic experience, the loss of her parents and all her siblings by the time she was 50 years old, and the work she’s done with many wealthy families over two decades, to build the five fundamentals and chapters of this book: (1) Connect, (2) Be Great Parents, (3) Pitch a Big Tent, (4) Become Emotionally Fluent, and (5) Cultivate Joy.
Perry talks about the need for family communication and how families can connect, even in the face of difficult family dynamics and conflicting personality types. She discusses why family meetings are important and how they should be conducted. Perry also addresses the need to establish family values (as well as the difference between a “value” and a “preference”) and set an example for future generations, while still allowing them to develop their own passions. She notes, “wealthy individuals have the luxury to live in a way that is completely reflective of their values, but it is easier to pass down money than values.”
In the chapter entitled “Become Emotionally Fluent,” Perry explores four areas for families to strive to achieve emotional fluency—vulnerability, family systems theory, trust and hurdles. She believes that for families to thrive both financially and emotionally, they must be “emotionally fluent.” Perry defines “emotional fluency” as the ability and willingness to feel and express a full range of authentic emotions without blame or judgment and to be able to hear and learn the true feelings of others.”
Perry shares the five ways that the families she’s worked with have found joy and the three invaluable gifts that storytelling gives to the next generation. At the end of the book, Perry offers 25 strategies to help families flourish, as well as a list of thought provoking questions that a family might want to ask itself as it thinks through the process of “navigating family, money and legacy.”
While reading this book, I found myself marking many of the phrases and paragraphs to use with my own clients and their family members. Many of the pages are dog-eared for future reference, as I found the book to be an excellent “how to” guide. Even those who’ve worked with families for many years will find valuable information to help counsel families of wealth in the important task of developing their human capital.