Entitlement – Poison in the Family Well

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4th Dec 2014

Entitlement –  Poison in the Family Well

Entitlement is an expectation founded on emotion that something is owed to a person “just because”.  [1]  Entitlement results at a minimum in family discord, and can escalate into estrangement of family members, break up of families or sometimes worst case scenarios.

The sense of entitlement can manifest itself in chameleon-like fashion:

  • Grannie told me she was giving me a share of her estate, but her will gave everything to you – you stole my inheritance!
  • I am 1 of 3 children, so of course I deserve a third of the estate and I don’t care what the will says!
  • I am the eldest child, of course I deserve everything!
  • I am the only child who worked in the family business so I deserve everything!

Although at times it may be clear to the family that entitlement is an issue which needs addressing, due to the many places that entitlement can grow and fester, and the general desire of most families to avoid conflict, it is difficult for families to have a full and frank discussion about the issue of entitlement.    It is the difficulty of having this family discussion that prevents many families from addressing entitlement, until it is too late.

The thought of having a full and frank family discussion conjures up many feelings which may make family members reluctant to participate.  Feelings such as:

  • I don’t want to judge my children or siblings;
  • such a discussion will result in family conflict which should be avoided;
  • the family will always be able to work things through so it would be a waste of time;

Although this reluctance needs to be recognised, it should not be allowed to prevent the family discussion from occurring.  If the sense of entitlement is not dealt with now in the open, then it will be dealt with later, oftentimes in court, after the older generation is no longer able to participate in the discussion.  Usually the issue only becomes problematic for the family once the older generation is no longer holding the family together.    So although “entitlement” is a family issue, it really is an issue for the older generation that created the family wealth to address, for if they do not, then it will be addressed, likely in a fashion detrimental to the family, after they are gone.

For the generation that created the family and the family wealth, you are in charge of where the family is headed.  It is important not to downplay your importance: usually you are the bond that holds the family together.   It is the strength of this bond that provides you the opportunity to have this open and frank family discussion.

Have you considered the course that you have charted for your family if you ignore the issue of entitlement?   Is it really smooth sailing ahead for the family without your guidance or is the family headed for the entitlement cliff?

Unless you change direction, you are likely to arrive at where you are headed.  (old Chinese proverb)

Where the focus is on the family rather than just passing on “things”, and you are concerned that “entitlement” has crept into the family dynamic, let’s chat.



[1]  I have worked in cultures where primogeniture rules and everyone abides by that rule.  In these cultures, this discussion may not necessarily apply, although I would hasten to add that I have also had the experience where, although the initial transition to the eldest male child did not create a (litigation) problem, the cross-cultural adage of “shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in 3 generations” (or less) was more than a propos.

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