In at least one sense business succession planning is like planning for guns: you need to make sure beneficiaries are responsible enough to handle the asset. Plus a little asset protection might be a good idea.
Putting aside the ultimate outcome of the Massachusetts lawsuit (and others), as well as the underlying culpability of the individual family members, the existence of the lawsuit highlights a key aspect of family business planning that can be overlooked.
From a family business planning perspective, the Sackler family could be viewed as a success. Arthur’s descendants were able to be bought out. Members of both the second and third generations are involved in management. The company remains privately held and has generated substantial profits.
The issue is the cost at which the profits were won. From a planning perspective, the questions worth asking are: Did each family member consciously make that bargain? Did they ever have the chance? Did they have the necessary information? Did they have the necessary advice? To what extent would they have needed to sacrifice? To what extent did they understand the potential costs?
These questions don’t diminish the responsibility of each family member. Rather, they’re intended to highlight the need for professionals to press against a family’s concepts of success—especially when seemingly valued assets can easily become liabilities.