The Biggest Mistake in Setting Up Family Offices — Susan Schoenfeld

Talking Trends
4 min readMar 4, 2024


Picture by Hadija on Unsplash

Susan R. Schoenfeld, CEO and Founder of Wealth Legacy Advisors LLC serves as a ‘thought partner’ to families of wealth through personal attention and human spirit. Susan is an award-winning Thought Leader; she provides guidance on legacy, next-generation, stewardship, governance, leadership succession, and philanthropy. She recently spoke on Family Office Structures at Opal Group’s Family Office Forum West.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make in setting up a family office is the failure to think about the future and to build-in adaptability and flexibility into their structure.

If the wealth creators have set up their family office simply to run their own assets, and they’re not necessarily thinking about or incorporating and engaging the next generation’s needs and values into that family office, then it’s destined to fail.

If the family is setting up their family office and isn’t thinking about leadership succession planning from Day One, then it’s destined to fail.

These families are unique; they evolve and grow. They grow through marriage, they grow through the rising generation becoming adults, and evolve as those rising adults develop their own interests, needs and values.

The advisors and the family itself need to be nimble in designing the services and structure of the family office, and to build-in the flexibility to make changes as the family grows and as the family’s needs and interests continue to evolve. So if G1 wants to establish a single family office to simply address their own cash flow, investment reporting, and other purely financial needs, but G2 wants to engage with the family office differently, maybe they want to engage in governance practices, or create a family foundation, or do impact investing, the family office has to adapt to those evolving family needs or else risks becoming irrelevant.

I worked with a family recently, where G2 was very interested in impact investing but G1, who controlled the purse strings, had no interest in it whatsoever and actively resisted that direction. That family office is destined to eventually fail unless the two generations find a way to talk to each other about this potential change in direction, and build in the adaptability and flexibility for the family office to meet the interests, needs and concerns of all the stakeholders and not just the wealth creator generation.

Susan Schoenfeld, a public speaker & thought partner to families of wealth and their advisors, is an award-winning thought leader. Susan’s switch from successful estate planning attorney and CPA to a trusted family advisor and thought partner was inspired by families of wealth asking her to search questions beyond estate tax planning. As a conflict-free advisor who provides no investment, tax, or legal advice and sells no product, Susan shares her insights directly with wealthy families and with financial services experts. She is active as a keynote speaker and a leader of break-out sessions and workshops at conferences throughout the US.

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