Multi-generational family sharing a meal together at a table

How to Leverage Your Family Tree in Estate Planning

When discussing estate planning with clients, I often remind them that legacy is a crucial element to consider when making decisions involving loved ones. As I find myself asking about their own family stories, a memorable wristwatch slogan comes to mind: You never actually own a Patek Phillippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.

A broad understanding of estate planning — the process of articulating what you would like to preserve for loved ones — involves discussions about investments, real estate and life insurance. Yet many neglect to explore their family story as part of the process. Reflection on the intangible assets your family has accumulated — values, skillsets and spiritual practices — can allow for a deeper understanding of what’s most meaningful.

Family story stewardship involves recognizing all that your predecessors have worked hard to preserve. Inheriting certain perspectives from generations of local artisans, I have recognized the importance of these vocations and invested in supporting small, family-owned shops. This earned appreciation is not a possession I inherited, but rather a value I would like to pass on as it helps determine the meaning behind my family’s success and well-being.

In Good Company helps guests learn about these legacies through engaging activities, take-home work and inclusion of loved ones. In the workshop Protecting Your Family: Estate Planning, instructors introduce a tool that combines all of these strategies: a financial genogram.1 It’s an intricate family tree that provides a more holistic financial picture of a person’s family.

Genogram Graphic

By drawing your own genogram, you may view a snapshot of your family story. You’ll then be able to identify:

  • Patterns of inherited financial values
  • Key members of your family council
  • Family communication strengths

If you’re curious about how to draw your own genogram, here are three tips for getting started:

Draw a Basic Family Tree
Grab a paper and pencil — or any other tools to help you get creative. To the best of your knowledge, map out your relatives, connecting them with lines to show who is directly related to whom. You may wish to include non-relatives or even pets — whatever family means to you. You may insert identifying information such as birthdays and occupations next to each person. You might already recognize some patterns at this early stage of the genogram — such as longevity trends or family sizes. Keep this in mind as you progress.

Illustrate Connections
Use a key2 to indicate important relationships within your family such as marriages, divorces, financial or health dependencies and direct versus distant relationships. Take note of important factors that reveal themselves at this stage. You may find that several loved ones are dependent upon each other, or that strong communication is a family asset.

Genogram Key

Establish Values
Next to each family member, indicate a value they may represent. It could be something they have been stewarding from previous generations or a unique trait they have procured themselves. For example, if a relative is serving in the military or supports veterans, their value may be patriotism. Having this information conveniently articulated in one place can help estate planning professionals better connect you with tools that preserve your unique family story.

In Good Company Workshops use experiential learning to help articulate the sense of purpose that fuels financial decisions. Genograms are one of several methods that put this educational approach into practice. While working hard to save may come naturally to some, wealth may be spent and sustained more efficiently as a result of working with professionals.

Honest conversations and helpful resources can help employees build a stronger connection to their family story and financial goals. With this elevated understanding of values and a healthy boost in confidence, your team may better use their benefits as they infuse family tradition into financial decisions.

Contact us to learn more about how we help employees gain a better awareness of what financial health means for them and their loved ones.



1Gallo, Eileen. “Using Genograms to Help Understand Relationships with Money.” Journal of Financial Planning, September, 2001, http://www.galloconsulting.com/using-genograms-to-help-understand-relationships-with-money.
2Klontz, B. Khaler, R. Klontz, T. Facilitating Financial Health. Erlanger, KY The National Underwriter Company, 2016.

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