Lights, Camera Action! Movies Help Businesses Plan for The Next Generation

By Gail Rubin

Business succession planning is vital, especially when a family business is part of an estate. Who’s going to run the business after the founder(s) pass on? The next generation may not have the financial temperament or business skills to step into Mom or Dad’s hard-to-fill shoes.

Personalities play a big part in the success or failure of business succession. It’s hard to start a conversation about death and family business. One can get a little help from Hollywood, using scenes from films and television programs that raise questions and help illustrate the finer points of passing along the family business.

This is Where I Leave You

This Is Where I Leave You posterThis film released in 2014 focuses on a family of adult Jewish children brought together at the family home to sit shivah for seven days after the father dies. The siblings have a heated argument over the inheritance of the family’s sporting goods store. The serious eldest son has been running the business with Dad. They ne’er-do-well youngest son wants to become part of the management team.

The four siblings each get an equal share of the business. Chaos ensues. This one scene very vividly illustrates the need for a family business to map out next steps, especially with more than one child inheriting a share of the enterprise.

The Six Wives of Henry Lefay

Tim Allen is Henry Lefay, who loves too many women

Tim Allen is Henry Lefay, who loves too many women

As you might guess from the title, Henry Lefay has been married a few times. One of his ex-wives is still his business partner, running a successful audio-video store. Henry seems to have died while para-sailing in Mexico. At the visitation, the current wife has a meltdown and announces she owns everything, including Henry’s half of the business.

Because a crazy wife owns half of the business, does that mean she has a say in the operations? What protections can be put in place before a key employee dies to insure the business continues to run smoothly? This is a conversation to have NOW.

Six Feet Under

Six Feet Under OpeningThis award-winning HBO television series aired from 2001 to 2005. In the first episode, the father, Nathaniel Fisher, Sr., founder of Fisher & Sons Funeral Home, dies when the hearse he is driving gets struck by a bus. His two sons, Nate Jr. and David, have two very different personalities. Nate ran as far away from the funeral business as he could go, and David became a buttoned-up funeral director.

At the reading of the will, both sons inherit the business. David is furious about the joint inheritance. Nate wants to give David his half of the business. Plus, a large funeral corporation, Kroehner Service International, is pressuring the family to sell or be put out of business.

How can succession planning deal with these issues? Who can help give the family the kind of insights and guidance a small business needs to navigate such changes? In the case of the funeral business, it might make sense to seek out a competent business consultant, in addition to the business’ CPA, tax attorney and estate planning attorney.

Red River

Red River posterThis 1948 film stars John Wayne as hard-driving rancher Tom Dunston, who won’t listen to anyone else’s advice, and Montgomery Clift as his adopted son Matthew Garth. They raise a herd of 10,000 cattle starting with only two. The 1,000 mile cattle drive to get their beef to market drives a wedge between the two men. Dunston’s tyrannical ways prompt Matthew to take the herd away from Dunston and head to a new railhead in Kansas.

There are a number of scenes that show young Matt disagreeing with Dunston’s business practices. Dunston had wanted Matt to inherit the ranch, but after the split on the cattle drive, he’s not sure what he’ll do. These scenes might allow warring generations to identify with these characters and have some reasoned conversations with the help of a talented, neutral moderator.

Watching scenes from these movies may help foster productive conversations about family businesses and inheritances. If you’ve got a business to pass on to the next generation, it may be worthwhile to put these titles in your DVD or streaming video queue today.

Gail Rubin, funeral expert and Celebrant

Gail Rubin, CT, The Doyenne of Death®

Gail Rubin, CT, The Doyenne of Death®, brings a light touch to serious subjects as a speaker who uses humor and funny films to attract people to discuss mortality, end-of-life, estate and funeral planning issues. She is Certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement, a Certified Funeral Celebrant, author of the award-winning book and host of the TV and radio shows A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die.

Her website is Download a free planning form, before someone dies! The only time you can laugh in the face of Death is when it’s still a vague idea, not grim reality.

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