Editor's Note: This article is part of the Financial Advisor series "How I Solved It." Advisors describe a client with a problem and what they did to help.

Financial advisors typically do extensive number crunching for clients who disagree on how to divvy up family assets. This advisor assisted one family the most not by doing the math but by getting them to speak to each other about the future of their family farm.

The family patriarch and matriarch and their three adult children were at odds on whether to keep or sell their working farm in Colorado. Before asking for help with this conflict, the quintet had tried on their own for two to three years “to navigate through this complex, thorny issue,” said Howard Lutz, senior vice president of Intercontinental Wealth Advisors, a San Antonio-based wealth management and financial planning firm.

“The bitterness and animosity was kind of bubbling up and growing,” said Lutz, whose firm serves many multi-generational families of high net worth. The siblings had become unhappy with each other, he said, and there was also some strife between the children and their parents.

The farm, valued at “well north of $15 million,” said Lutz, was started by the matriarch’s parents and had grown considerably over the years as the family acquired additional pieces of land. The matriarch and patriarch, long-time clients of Intercontinental Wealth Advisors, originally raised their family on the farm before relocating to Texas.

The patriarch wanted to sell the farm because the family wasn’t visiting it often and it was getting more expensive to maintain. The matriarch still had a strong emotional attachment and “does the bulk of the heavy lifting from afar,” said Lutz.

Among the offspring, the oldest child had the strongest emotional attachment to the farm because she spent most of her childhood living there. The youngest child, who currently lives and works on the farm, also wanted the family to keep it. The middle child wanted the inflow of capital to launch a non-farming business, said Lutz.

Lutz knew he had to find a way to strike a balance between “the ideal financial and emotional solution,” he said. But before taking the typical textbook steps (bringing in a family’s CPA and estate planning attorney and having appraisers do asset valuations), he brought together the family for what morphed into a series of family meetings.  It helped a lot that Intercontinental was the common trusted advisor for all five members, he said, noting that the kids had also become clients over the years.

Lutz and his colleagues took the conversations back to family values— “particularly about mutual respect for each other, togetherness and the core belief that family comes first,” he said. “It did wonders to set the stage and get everyone back on that level playing field.” He also got them to speak about what made the family farm so special to them.

The siblings spoke very directly to each other, and sometimes harshly to their parents, but “this was the first time they addressed their desires and concerns regarding this long-cherished family asset,” he said. “At the end of the day, we knew they didn’t want to sell the farm.” Sometimes Lutz and his team bring in professional mediators, but this particular family didn’t feel they needed or wanted that at this point.

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