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During the "Family money: treasure or poison?" conference organised by Banque de Luxembourg in Brussels, Isabelle de Laminne from La Libre Belgique talked to the philosopher and psychotherapist Nicole Prieur, and Philippe Depoorter, Family Practice Leader at Banque de Luxembourg, in a joint interview on family money.

By Isabelle de Laminne

Don't ignore the psychological dimension of money

From pocket money to passing on an estate, money underlies relationships in families and couples. Yet people are reluctant to talk about it in the family circle. “Attitudes to money are generally a taboo subject, much more so than sex. Money in the family is both treasure and poison. In my work with clients, I have found that the more people can talk about money, the better they can talk about love,” asserted the psychologist and philosopher Nicole Prieur at a conference organised in Brussels by Banque de Luxembourg.

When people talk about money, they are really thinking about heritage: goods and chattels, property or the family business. These can be a source of happiness as well as suffering. Although money is often the basis of independence for children as they leave the nest, it can also become a reason for alienation if they think they haven't got enough of it when their desires grow.

Within a family or a couple, there are ants and grasshoppers. “Some consider money to be a pleasure and others see it as a source of anguish. One's attitude to money reflects one's attitude to life. There are people who plan, agonise over it and economise. Others need to spend as a way of confirming their existence,” adds Nicole Prieur. Things get even more complicated with the gift that sends a message. There is a way of giving and a way of receiving. Haven't we all, at one time or another, been disappointed by a Christmas present that didn't come up to scratch in terms of our personality or expectations?

It's not the monetary value that matters, it is all in the symbolism and the sub-conscious. It is easier to give than to receive because a gift generates a debt. How can you live up to your parents' expectations when you receive a gift? We can never discharge the debt to our family. We can't pay back our parents, we can only pass things on to our children to offset our debt,” says Nicole Prieur. So when you give, you should ask yourself how the other person will receive it. Getting parents and children to sit round the table to discuss how the wealth will be handed over can defuse frustrations or misunderstandings. Each of us has a sub-conscious calculator which tends to work overtime during family conflicts.

During preliminary discussions about passing on one's wealth, gifts can be seen objectively. People can state their opinions and objections and listen to other people's. Above all, they have an opportunity to explain. I give two pictures of the same value to each child. One was in my bedroom, the other was in the cellar. The child who receives the one from the cellar may feel that their place in the family is lower. But if you explain that it was kept there to protect it from light, the gift takes on another dimension in the sub-conscious,” the psychologist explains. Talking, explaining, expecting nothing in return, accepting dispossession and knowing that what is given in your lifetime will be easier to accept than an inheritance after your death – these are some of the keys for successfully passing on money within the family.


And what about the banker?

The banker who manages the family wealth also has to be aware of the forces at play in the family. The banker can help them address this taboo subject. “The questions we get are often: When should we start talking about passing on our wealth? How best can we prepare for the handover? When and how should we give it? We are there to help families look objectively at money matters; the banker cannot be the family therapist but must be aware of the underlying anxieties,” says Philippe Depoorter, Family Practice Leader at Banque de Luxembourg. And ideally, the psychologist should also be involved in advice on this transfer.


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