What Defines a Family Member?

Bernie Kliska

How does one determine who is a member of the family?

Last May, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2010 married couples represent 48% of U.S. households.  The remaining households were comprised of single parents, live-in partners (same or opposite sex), divorced, separated or unattached individuals.  Further confusing the picture are blended families that are a hybrid of more than one family of origin.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issued a guide defining who is considered a family member (Dodd-Frank Act), which stated in-laws were not considered family.  Under this act, unmarried and same sex couples living together could be considered as family members. 

With so many variables, how do we decide who is a family member?  The answer can only come from the families themselves.  There needs to be a willingness to discuss the issues around this question without insult and recrimination. 

While this conversation may not lead to a consensus, it can generate an honest, powerful discussion on deciding who should be included in establishing policies for the business, as well as family and estate planning.  Having this discussion also helps emphasize to the family the importance of working together on complex matters.

Shifting notions of what constitutes ‘family’ is yet another variable that can challenge the senior generation’s dream that the family will all work together and stay together.  In our experience, if the senior family members are open to considering a sometimes broader definition of family, then the most important part of his/her dream… a supportive family and a successful family business…can be more likely to still come true.

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