Family Dysfunction Part V: The Wake of the High Achiever

Posted on: Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

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It is a curious reality of probate litigation that the qualities common to people who create wealth are also qualities of people who create family dysfunction.

What I see is that high achievers (whether they be business people, cutting edge doctors, successful lawyers, or esteemed college professors) tend to be driven people, people who put their passion ahead of their families, and more to the subject of this post, people who were/are overly critical of those they love.  In many families where Dad (that is the most common scenario, although it could be Mom) is highly successful, the kids are screwed up.  The problem typically centers on the inability (or obliviousness) of Dad to the need for him to validate his children.  The children spend their lives feeling like they never measured up to Dad, his high standards or what he expected of them.  As long as he is alive, they live in his shadow, intimidated but at the same time anxious to obtain his approval.

Because of their unique qualities and driven nature, when these high achievers become incompetent, they are difficult to deal with and create special challenges (as discussed in the “Fall of the High Achiever” below); and when they die, their money is often the subject of litigation (the related, but distinct topic of this post).

It is a dynamic that often extends to multiple generations, as does the wealth.  The kids are impacted, suffering from self-esteem issues and competitive as between them (who did Dad favor or disfavor?), and so they become unstable, often alcoholism is involved; and then their kids (the grandkids) have their own set of issues.

All parents screw up their children, and (I’ve probably mentioned this before) the hardest thing in life is putting down the baggage that our parents hand to us.  For the children of the high achievers, this task is especially monumental. This reality is the source of much probate litigation: The very families in which there is enough money to justify protracted litigation have the dynamics/dysfunction to drive it.

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