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Sustaining Your Line-Family
How will you keep your line-family going? You know some of the broad concepts, but it’s the details that will trip you up. At the top of the list (right below the vision statement) is the family agreement. This evolving document is used to answer questions that come up about how family members will support the family socially, economically and physically. Investments are a key to multigenerational financial planning. Real property and the improvement to that land must reflect and support family activities such as business, recreation and shelter.

Family businesses are all but required for a serious multigenerational family (unless you become the royal family of some nation that produces a fabulously valuable export). Great work if you can get it. Families with substantial holdings and businesses should look into incorporating as a holding company. This allows for managing diverse assets while keeping the liability issues in control.

Family Agreements
This was touched on briefly in the Family Vision section. Now let’s look at some of the specifics you might want to address.

Topics include, how much financial support is expected from members (when working, unemployed, retired, etc.); safer sex and outside dating; parenting agreements; work around the home and grounds and other day to day issues regarding maintaining house and home. Family money will probably come under the rules written into family businesses and the family LLC and/or family holding company (see the last item on this page). Family (group) decision making techniques are discussed in detail in a separate section.
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Investments
Please Note: We are not investment counselors.
In this section we will let you know about a few basic investment strategies and instruments. Study the subject for yourselves. Unbiased classes are difficult to find. Always be aware of an instructor’s bias. This is particularly true if they represent an investment firm. Books on investing can also have a bias. Check out who wrote it and what house published the book. Also check out the reviews.

It is always good to have a reasonable amount of ready cash available. This is usually accommodated by use of a checking account or savings account and making small cash withdrawals as needed from ATMs (aka cash machines). We vigorously stress using caution with credit cards. If you use one to collect airline miles, make sure you have an automatic payment system set up and keep a more than adequate amount in the account used to pay off the card each month. A “random note” will be posted soon discussing our concerns about credit cards, too-big-to-fail banks and searching for local lending institutions.

Get rich quick schemes almost always work – for the person promoting them, not the sucker that gets involved with one. Even if the thief who set up the scam is caught, the victims rarely get back the money they lost. Just Google Bernie Madoff for a recent example.

Diversity is a time-tested concept for investment portfolios. There are many safe monetary instruments in which to place your money. One of the safest is US Treasury Bills (aka T-Bills) T-Bills are bonds sold by the federal government. The return on investment is not great, but it is better than a pass-book savings account. The only way T-Bills don’t pay off is if the US Government collapses. In that case you will have much more to worry about than dollars.
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Certificates of Deposit
These are fixed interest rate instruments that pay more than most passbook savings. They tie up your money for some specific period of time, generally from 3 or 6 months up to multiple years. They are FDIC insured and are extremely safe and boring investments. We think having boring investments in your family’s portfolio is a good idea.

Precious metals and coins
As a stable and universal means of exchange, gold coins are about as real as money gets. The US Mint produces silver, platinum and gold coins. You can buy uncirculated precious metal proof coins directly from the Mint. That way you know exactly what you are buying. Be aware that there are two major types of precious-metal coins, proof and bullion. Proof coins are polished coins that generally commemorate an event or person. The price of the coin is generally much higher than the price of the metal in the coin. A bullion coin’s value is based on the amount and quality of the precious metal.

The Mint does not sell bullion coins directly. However at the Mint website you can find a list of “authorized gold bullion coin dealers.” Iowa has only one authorized dealer, New York has 15 and California has 55. (We just found those statistics oddly interesting.)

Other ways of investing in precious metals include certificates, stock in mining companies, mutual funds including or specializing precious metals and gold and metals futures. (We do not consider futures a basic investment instrument and they will not be discussed here.) See a broker about these investments.
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Individual stocks
Investing in individual stocks is a good way to make and lose a fair amount of money. Stock conveys an ownership position in a company – a very small ownership position. Stocks can provide income from dividends paid to the stockholder. If the company is doing well, the dividend is high. If the company is doing poorly, there is little or no dividend paid. When a stock’s price is higher than what your family paid for it, it may be sold for a profit. There are other things that can be done with individual stocks such as “puts” and “calls” but these are beyond the scope of this website.

One member of our staff bought Amazon early and it almost doubled. Then July 27, 2001 happened and the tech-bubble burst with Microsoft, Real Networks and Sun Microsystems and other tech companies laying off at least 10% of their employees. Tech stock prices started sliding fast. Our hero had loans come due and he sold his Amazon stock at a substantial loss. Of course the stock recovered, but that was little comfort. Luckily he didn’t sell his Apple stock. On average he is way ahead but being in debt and not having cash available cost him a large profit.

Most investment counselors we have seen on TV or read in magazines suggest that individuals do not invest heavily (or at all) in individual stocks. The one exception they make is that if you really know the business, you might put a small percentage of your portfolio in one or two stocks. Avoid hunches or “hot tips” from friends or coworkers. More often than not hunches and tips do not pay off.
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Bonds
Bonds differ from stocks in that bonds are loans. When you buy a bond you are loaning your money for a specific amount of interest to be paid back along with the principal. Your return on investment (R.O.I.) and maturity date is fixed on simple bonds. There are bonds with interest rates that move up or down based on a reference rate. There are also bond that have “put” or “call” options, but these things get too involved for the purposes of this website.

Bond funds
Bond funds invest in multiple bonds. It might be a diverse fund or one that invests only in municipal bonds, corporate bonds or any other specialty type of bond.

Mutual funds
These securities can invest in a broad range of instruments including bonds, stocks, short-term money market paper, etc. We think this is a good way for a small investor to diversify their holdings.

Indexed funds
Common indexed funds invest in the S&P 500, S&P 1,000, the Nikkie Average and other large groups of stocks. Index funds can specialize in currency trading and bond funds. This is another way to spread risk over a large number of instruments.
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Real Property
Owning real property – land and the permanent improvement thereupon – provides security and generally proves a good long-term investment. If family property is owned by individuals in the family, an unequal balance of power exists as the property owners are liable for the risk incurred by family use of the property.

It is better if property is owned by the family as a whole. There are many methods for group-ownership of land. Diane Christian’s book “Creating a Life Together” discusses this topic in detail. We will look at the family limited liability company as one answer in the final section of this web page.

Real Property Improvement
To be “real property” an improvement must be permanent. An in-ground swimming pool is real property – an above ground pool is not. Buildings with foundations are real property as are trees, wells and anchored fencing. Portable kit sheds, carrots in the garden and self-standing fencing are not real property. Any property that is not real property is personal property.
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Family Business
Drive down any business district street and you will see all sorts of business ideas. One of the first "problems" people make for themselves when thinking about starting a business, is that they don’t have any original ideas. We’ll tell you a little secret, Ben and Jerry did not invent ice-cream. They started small and found that people would pay more for a clearly superior product.

Ask around in your family. Does anyone have passion and/or knowledge about some product? If so, you might start a business producing a higher-quality version of the product. Conversely, a more economical (cheaper) version of the product might also have a ready market.

How about a service business? Twin Oakes has a thriving indexing business. Is there an artist in your family? How about starting a graphics design business? After looking at the talent that exists in your family, check out what your land can provide. A social responsible business would be growing heritage seeds. And should the world monoculture crops fail, your family would still be producing food. Do you have room to board animals? Opportunities are everywhere.

Have a business brainstorming session at your next family meeting. A business that employed retired members of your family part time could be a great way to provide another family income stream. We have seen several retired people who worked even when they didn’t need to. Having a purpose and feeling like we are contributing is a human trait that does not end at a forced retirement age.
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Family Investment and Business Management
(as an LLC or Holding Company)

In this section we deal with how family holdings are managed – not the personal money and investments of individual family members. Individuals are solely responsible for their own personal investments, property, money, etc and are separate from family holdings.

Note: We feel that family members should have their own personal money and property like clothes or musical instruments. Even in a line family, people are individuals.

Limited Liability Company:
We are going to look at the limited liability company model (LLC). This is an excellent tool for both investing a pool of money and managing the investments for multiple generations. LLC money may be invested in all the investment instrument listed above and can be used for start-up businesses.

First a definition of what an LLC is and is not. It is not a corporation and, therefore, is not required to keep minutes. However, if you are using the consensus procedure, notes are taken (and we feel that no matter the process, note are a good idea). Like an S-corporation, the LLC pays no taxes. The tax burden “flows through” the LLC to the individual members of the LLC thus avoiding what some call a “double taxation.”

Unlike a common partnership where profits are split 50/50, an LLC can have custom methods of profit distribution. Also LLC owners (members) have liability protection much like corporations (LLCs are companies, not corporations). Unless a member signs a personal guarantee, debtors can not go after a member’s personal assets.

LLCs are a powerful yet flexible management tool. LLC operating agreements can cover issues such as keeping family members from selling their shares of the LLC to people outside the family. Without this option, you could have nonfamily members suddenly involved in the heart of family finances. LLC agreements can require family members to make regular contributions of cash or other negotiable instruments to the LLC on a regular basis. LLCs can stop managers from investing in certain types of businesses such as arms manufacturers or dictate that the LLC only invest in laundromats in particular parishes or counties (we don’t recommend limiting your LLC this radically).

Your LLC agreements can provide for the management style to be used from rotating planning boards, majority voting, family consensus, etc. (See the section on Choices and Negotiations: Family Decision Making Techniques.) Check out your state for rules and requirements. They differ slightly from state to state. Apparently it is possible to form an LLC in a state other than where you live. We have heard that the rules in Delaware and Nevada have advantages and that Delaware has the lowest cost. Just sayin’. If your family wants to start an LLC, study the subject and get professional help. All we have done here is tell you that this tool is available to your family.
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Note: No financial instruments were bought, sold, harmed or recommended in the making of this web page.