I define a “business family” as two or more relatives who own valuable property together. A business family may be partners in a family partnership. They may be beneficiaries of an estate or trust. They may be common owners of a stock portfolio, a shopping center, or an art collection. A business family may own an active operating company — a “family business”.

Whether close or distant, affectionate or cold, by definition a business family is nevertheless joined at the wallet.

Wallet wellness

Some business families handle their interdependent finances elegantly. Somehow the common wallet binds them closer together. Together they savor their shared good fortune. They enjoy each others’ enjoyment. They are generous with each other. They may disapprove of how some relatives spend their money, but they don’t say so. They talk with each other freely and frankly about the family money, finding ways to disagree without being disagreeable.

Wallet war

For other business families, the common wallet is feud fuel that eventually incinerates precious parts of their family relationship. Contemporary Hatfields and McCoys hurl insults and hire lawyers to terrorize each other. Old slights and injustices become magnified, quantified, monetized. Their primal needs for each other, their primal instincts of loyalty to family, their connection to a common history -- all are casualties in the war to win a fatter portion of the common wallet.

Wallet waffling

For too many business families, joinder at the wallet both binds and loosens.

For fear that money differences might divide them, they maintain a mutual distance lest intimacy ignite. Their opinions about investment or family management have an edge if expressed, or smolder if suppressed. Disapproving comments about how others spend their family money — or live on it instead of working — slip out at inappropriate times. For fear that frank discussions of money could impair more precious parts of the family relationship, they don’t talk about it.

A heads up:Joinder at the wallet is neither good nor bad. But it isn’t neutral either. Joinder at the wallet usually binds or divides.

If your business family pretends a non-existent consensus, or denies, or buries your differences, you may be caught up in wallet waffling and that could degenerate to wallet war. Talk together about your concerns. Give joinder at the wallet a chance to bind you closer together.

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