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“I had the opportunity to read your book and loved it. This is a book I would be happy to give my clients, as I believe it would assist them in understanding the process. This is a wonderful book!”

- Christina Stone, JD
Attorney, certified specialist estate planning, trust and probate law
La Habra, CA

Kelty Press

Family Ties Quotient

When you step forward, will your parents step back?

PEOPLE REMEMBER BETTER positive rather than negative family events and issues, according to a recent study. We want to believe good things about our respective families, so we smooth over the sharp edges of harsh words from bygone quarrels. With our parents, we tend to remember earlier days when they were not beset by persistent pain and discomfort. We minimize differences so we can feel better about them.

Unfortunately, when late-in-life crises arise, this tendency to minimize unresolved differences may lead to painful confrontations. For example, a daughter who has a strong need of parental approval may be irreparably hurt when either or both parents interpret her well-meaning inquiries about finances as underhanded maneuvers to get her inheritance early.

I have seen this happen among friend and clients. In one instance, a female client in her mid-40s was so taken back by her father’s anger that she pulled back completely from involvement in their planning. “I just can’t believe that he is acting this way,” she confided sorrowfully.

His actions were not surprising to me. I had met her father several years earlier and felt firsthand the depth of his suspicions towards anyone who asked questions about his legal or financial affairs. I also witnessed his patronizing treatment towards his wife and her docile acceptance of his dominant manners. After that meeting I concluded that the father’s domineering attitudes did not allow the family to work well together, a supposition that was confirmed later by his open distrust of the most loyal of his three daughters.

Witnessing firsthand these awful emotional collisions has led me to develop questionnaires to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of family emotional ties. I have labeled the numerical scores of these questionnaires as the Family Ties Quotient (FTQ).

These questionnaires, while not scientific, can indicate the strength of familial bonds among parents and their children. During my 14+ years of conducting family consultations, I have identified three loose classifications of family ties: great, mixed and terrible.

Great FTQ families come closest to the Leave-it-to-Beaver ideal of family relations. Dad and Mom know their life spans are limited. While each still has his and her full faculties they seek legal and financial assistance to set their affairs in order. They execute power of attorney documents for asset management and health care. They establish a trust and complete their burial arrangements. They conduct family meetings where their arrangements are discussed openly.

When Dad or Mom suffers a severe health setback, each family member knows how the legal and financial matters will unfold. This certainty better enables family members to support each other through the progressive stages of grieving.

In my unscientific sampling, approximately 20% of families enjoy such positive relations. Delightful clients, these families normally have strong spiritual centers.

At the opposite end of the FTQ spectrum reside fractured, dysfunctional families. These people make terrible clients. Fears of an uncertain afterlife cause parents to cling desperately to life. Either no legal and financial plans have been set in place and members flail about angrily, or legal and financial plans have been executed that pit family members against one another. Bitter lawsuits and hateful actions poison family relations for succeeding generations. From my experience, approximately 20% of families suffer such terrible relations.

That leaves 60% of families exhibiting mixed FTQ characteristics. Legal and financial plans may or may not exist. If they exist, such plans may be incomplete or outdated. Spiritual values range dramatically. Individual family members vary in knowledge about long-term care issues. Some family members feel validated, others feel betrayed. These families muddle through end-of-life crises, with many members mourning fitfully for years afterward.

These questionnaires were developed to help adult offspring identify positive and negative parental traits and devise action plans suited to their situation. My scoring reflects the 20-60-20 percentages discussed above.

Family Ties Quotient Scoring

Great: 168 to 134
Mixed: 134 to 34
Terrible: 34 to 28

I welcome input from psychologists, psychiatrists, grief counselors, priests, rabbis, ministers, spiritual counselors, social workers and other professional behaviorists regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the following questionnaires. I also welcome recommendations and criticisms from consumers. My goal is to incorporate your recommendations into future editions.

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