When we think about learning from television, most of us probably think about documentaries or educational programs. However, sometimes, the most valuable lessons come from the unlikeliest of sources. Case in point, HBO’s dramatic show, “Succession”.
The show tells the tale of the dysfunctional Roy family and the international media conglomerate they own, Waystar Royco. Through their failures, feuds, and financial mishaps, we can actually glean some surprisingly practical insights about succession and estate planning. This is no small matter. According to PWC’s 2021 Family Business Survey, only 34% of surveyed companies had a "robust, documented and communicated succession plan in place".
But first, what exactly is succession planning, and how does it relate to estate planning?
Succession planning involves identifying and developing new leaders who can replace old ones when they leave, retire, or die. It's a critical part of maintaining the longevity and success of any business, especially family-run businesses.
Estate planning, on the other hand, is a process where you detail legally how you want your assets to be distributed after your death. This not only includes physical assets but also your digital assets and your financial investments.
In essence, both are about managing the future of assets (business and personal) and minimizing the chaos that can ensue when a key person passes away.
Now, let's dive into what we can learn from the infamous Roy family. (Be careful reading– spoiler alerts ahead!)
HBO’s Succession: key takeaways to implement in your own estate planning journey
Always have a plan: The importance of this cannot be understated. In Season 4, the Waystar Royco-GoJo deal is left hanging precariously due to Logan Roy's sudden death. With no clear successor, the company finds itself teetering on the edge. Such instability can be avoided with a well-documented succession plan.
Communication is key: The lack of open dialogue has often caused ripples within the Roy clan. This is highlighted in the season finale where Kendall Roy, trying to muster board support, finds himself in a bitter spat with sister Shiv over the future of the family name. With clearer communication, such squabbles can be kept at bay.
Not everything is about money: In the world of business succession, monetary value isn't always the key determinant of who takes the helm. A prime example can be seen in the choice of Tom Wambsgans as CEO of the newly formed Waystar-GoJo conglomerate. Despite not being a Roy family member or the richest candidate, Tom’s loyalty, submissiveness, and American nationality make him a safer and more palatable choice to Swedish tech guru Lukas Matsson. This choice underscores that qualities like loyalty, dependability, and suitability to the specific dynamics of the organization can matter just as much, if not more, than financial considerations.
Prepare for incapacity: Logan Roy' death in season 4's third episode aboard his private jet demonstrates the need for clear estate planning, especially healthcare documents. Documents such as an advanced healthcare directive are important as they outline who will make healthcare decisions should you become incapacitated. This not only saves family members from potentially painful decisions but also prevents any disagreements about what your healthcare wishes might be. In the Roys' case, an advanced healthcare directive would have clearly defined who was in charge during Logan's medical emergency, possibly preventing the chaos that ensued.
Engage a professional: In navigating the treacherous waters of succession planning, the Roys relied heavily on the expertise of their long-time advisors like Frank Vernon and Gerri Kellman. These professionals played vital roles in the family's attempts to control the future of Waystar Royco. This underscores the importance of involving professionals in succession planning. They can help identify and address potential legal and financial challenges that might not be evident to those without specialized knowledge. Also, fostering trust with advisors and involving them early can help ensure a smoother transition when the time comes.
Every member’s role should be clear: As we've seen throughout the series, confusion about roles only adds to the family’s dysfunction. This is epitomized in the Season 4 finale, where Shiv finds herself blindsided and left out of the GoJo deal.
Avoid favoritism: The Roys' succession saga shows how favoritism can create deep divides and result in disastrous consequences. Logan's clear favoritism for certain children at different times causes resentment, sparking infighting among the Roy siblings. When dealing with multiple children or potential heirs, it's crucial to treat each fairly, avoiding any appearance of favoritism in succession planning. Transparent communication about your decisions can help manage expectations and prevent feelings of resentment or perceived injustice, which could lead to the estate plan being contested after your passing.
Ensure the Successor is ready: Season 2's dramatic takeover attempt by Kendall Roy is a testament to the fact that readiness and timing are key in succession planning. Kendall's premature move, driven more by personal ambition than strategic planning, ends up jeopardizing his own position and destabilizing the company. On the other hand, Tom's ascent to CEO in season 4, despite the chaos, shows the importance of a successor being primed and ready to assume the role, both in terms of skills and acceptance within the organization.
Plan early: Procrastination is not your friend when it comes to succession planning. Logan's sudden demise forces the Roys into a mad scramble to secure the company's future. This scenario highlights the importance of early and thorough planning. Crafting a detailed succession plan in advance can ensure the smooth continuity of operations and maintain stability within the organization.
Secure your legacy: As the dust settles in the finale, we see the legacy of Logan Roy reshaped by the very individuals he sought to control. For Logan, it may not be the legacy he intended, but it's a stark reminder of the importance of planning for the future.
So, as we say goodbye to the enthralling world of the Roys, we are reminded of the urgency and the complexities involved in succession and estate planning. "Succession" may be a television drama, but the lessons it teaches about family dynamics, business, and estate planning are all too real. Don’t end up like Logan Roy and his children and instead start building your own legacy with Trust & Will today.
At Trust & Will, we’re here to help keep things simple. You can create a fully customizable, state-specific estate plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning and settlement options today!
Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Browse more topics in our learn center or chat with a live member support representative!
Trust & Will is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice.