The Reason to Tell Your Family Story

Stories form culture in powerful ways. Narratives as small as a meme and as large as an epic poem communicate meaning and can create unity among a group of people. Stories have transmitted information across millennia. Good stories are compelling, clear, emotional, and true (metaphorically or literally). Families can and should tell stories in order to build their cohesion and identity.

While most professional advisors usually provide families with the technical strategies for a successful transfer of financial assets, many do not support the transfer of the family’s hidden “qualitative wealth“–i.e. the wellbeing of family members and the culture of the family. So how do families build and transfer this type of wealth? In our experience, one way in which the family can build its qualitative wealth is by telling the family story that links past, present, and future.

The Power of Story

In the Harvard Business Review Magazine article titled What’s Your Story? authors Ibarra and Lineback argue that storytelling enables us to successfully navigate jarring life transitions. They write, “It is in a period of change that we…most need to link our past, present, and future into a compelling whole” (18).

By telling stories, we shape our futures and inspire others to trust in who we are and where we’re headed. A positive self-narrative carries can improve your welfare immensely, making you more resilient and better able to identify and overcome challenges. A story creates order out of the complex and seemingly random events, both good and bad, in life. Not only does a narrative make sense of the past, it gives meaning to the present, and gives a vision for the future.

Writing Your Family Story

Most compelling stories start with a sympathetic protagonist who pursues an unfulfilled desire. On the way to achieve that goal, the protagonist overcomes obstacles, doubt, criticism, and setbacks by making decisions based on the protagonist’s core principles. At the end of the story, the protagonist has gained new insight about the world and himself or herself. The family story weaves together the stories of individual family members to create a unifying narrative that everyone can identify with.

In your family’s story, the protagonist may be the first-generation matriarch or patriarch, but make sure that the underlying hero of the story is the family itself. That way, each family member who tells the story can identify with the family’s challenges and successes over time. Ideally, the story is broad enough that each member of the family can find a unique place as a character within the story as time goes on. This will create the “buy-in”—i.e., trust in the family—that is integral to intergenerational success.

When telling your family’s story, keep in mind that convincing stories are coherent. Coherent stories let the listener discover the deep-rooted “why” behind your actions and identity. These explanations give the listener a satisfying sense of continuity and causality. They convince the listener that despite the family’s ups and downs, its guiding values have stayed the same, and that these values have informed the most important decisions that have been made. A story centered around the fundamentals of value and vision will help keep you and your family on course when changes and crises do occur.

Brainstorming with the Family

If drafting the family story is an interactive exercise at a family retreat, consider having each family member journal answers to these questions before coming back together to write a story together.

  • What do you value most?
  • What are your aspirations?
  • What are your defining character traits?
  • What are the “aha” moments of your life?
  • What are your greatest achievements?
  • What would you change if you could?

Then consider creating a family tree and answering the following questions together:

  • What person or people have had a large impact on the family?
  • Who started the family business and why?
  • What challenges has the family had to overcome on its path to success?
  • What mistakes have been made and how can the family learn from them?
  • What were the high points of the family’s Journey together so far?

After answering some or all of these questions, the family will be well on its way to telling its story. Now let’s get into the structure of the story—how the information above should be sequenced into a narrative.

The Hero’s Journey

At The Grupp Law Firm LLC, we created a narrative framework for clients called the Heroic Family Journey. The Heroic Family Journey adopts elements of the archetypical hero’s journey to fit the context of a family’s shared experience towards building a Family Enterprise. The family could use the Heroic Family Journey to tell the bigger picture of the family’s history or adapt the Heroic Family Journey to tell the events of one member of the family.

The hero’s journey plot is the basis for most of the timeless stories throughout history, from ancient poems to blockbuster films. Typically, the hero ventures into the unknown in pursuit of a goal. On the Journey, the hero encounters a challenge and experiences life changing transformation by confronting the challenge. At last, the hero brings the insights from that transformation back to his or her community. Take Star Wars IV (the original) as a well known example.

At the beginning of the film, Luke is jarred out of his mundane existence by a droid from another planet. Soon Luke receives a “call” to become something more than he is. Initially he resists his mission, but crosses the threshold when he realizes everything he knew has been destroyed. Luke then descends into and partially resolves the chaos of conflict around him as he acts courageously. Through failure and success, he builds competence as a jedi-in-training. Eventually, Luke realizes the true nature of his new identity, gains confidence, and transforms himself and his community when he temporarily defeats archetypical evil (the Death Star).

The Heroic Family Journey

The scheme of the Heroic Journey is relatable. All of us struggle against chaos. All of us must choose between comfortable stagnation or risky transformation. At The Grupp Law Firm, we use this Journey to describe our client experience from initial contact with the firm to ongoing administration of the estate.

We also encourage families to discover and tell their own story, whether personal or the broader family history. Because this Journey is cyclical, it can keep developing and unfolding as the rising generation gradually take control of the family enterprise, encounter new challenges, and experience transformation. By fitting the events of the life of the family into this framework, the family can gain a shared perspective that acts as the glue holding together its members. 

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty details, to show how we’d go about writing a case study story. First, there are four stages to every Heroic Family Journey.

1. Call to a New Way of Life: Some event has happened that jars the family from “life as usual” and makes the family look for a solution. For example, this event could be, for example, the sale of a business or the death of a family elder.

2. Crossing the Threshold: The family makes the decision to build a plan for a multi-generational future together. Although this takes commitment, the work is worth the reward.

3. Solving Complexity: The family implements its plan and over time solves the complexity of governing the Family Enterprise. In addition to developing family governance and education plans, there are also plethora details relating to the integration of legal, tax, and financial planning across the various legal entities and accounts owned by the family.

4. Transformation: The family experiences transformation as both the family as a whole and its individual members lead flourishing lives. The family has a cohesive response to new challenges, transmits Wealth, and incorporates the rising generation into leadership positions.

Storytelling: the Nitty Gritty

That’s enough information to write a compelling narrative. However, we could dive in deeper to look at what happens within each of the four stages of the Journey. There are five steps.

1. Unexpected Event—something surprising interrupts protagonist’s pursuit of a goal
2. Complication—protagonist doesn’t understand why things are falling apart
3. Crisis—protagonist comprehends the situation and breaks it down into a choice
4. Climax—protagonist chooses one of the options
5. Resolution—protagonist moves closer to his or her goal

This feedback loop repeats at each level of the story as the family moves towards its goal of flourishing. 

If we take each of the four parts of the family’s Heroic Journey and include each of the five storytelling steps within each part, we have an essential story of about 20 sentences. This is a manageable project that the family could draft together in an afternoon at a family retreat.


Families flourish when they focus not just on financial capital but also on the transfer of values, stories, and the family’s shared history. By crafting their unique family story, members can create a sense of belonging, continuity, and trust. However, to make this happen, the story must be consistent, highlighting the family’s core values, and connecting the past, present, and future. The Grupp Law Firm LLC provides a step-by-step framework known as the Heroic Family Journey, based on the timeless hero’s journey narrative structure. This assists families in organizing their history and ensuring each member finds their unique place within it. To get started, consider the following steps.

Host a Family Retreat: Bring all family members together and journal answers to questions about values, aspirations, defining moments, and achievements. This not only acts as a bonding session but is a foundation for the family narrative.

Draft the Family Story: Using the Heroic Family Journey framework, break down the family’s story into its key stages: Call to a New Way of Life, Crossing the Threshold, Solving Complexity, and Transformation. Document both the challenges faced and victories achieved in each stage.

Review and Update Regularly: As with any living document, the family story should be reviewed at regular intervals, perhaps at annual family gatherings, to include new experiences and insights.

Engage Professionals: Consider reaching out to experts like The Grupp Law Firm LLC, who can guide your family in crafting a compelling narrative and integrating it into your estate and wealth transfer plans.

Begin the journey to a flourishing family. For more information, contact us.