One of the common themes of sibling fights in estates revolves around succession planning for the family business. Many business owners refuse to let go or acknowledge the reality that one day they will have to turn over the reins to a successor. As a result, they fail to implement a succession plan which often results in the family business being sold  to a stranger ( often without proper tax planning) or worse, the business goes bankrupt as siblings fight over who’s in charge.

In earlier blogs , I have written about the ongoing family fight involving the Rinehart family of Hancock Mining in Australia and the Samsung family feud in South Korea. Both of these family fights involve companies worth billions of dollars.

While one may not think of a Church ministry as a business, the Crystal Cathedral Ministry in California appears to be the latest victim of sibling rivalry. The Crystal Ministry was founded over 50 years ago by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller  in a California drive- in theater. The ministry eventually became one of America’s “megachurches” with up to 10,000 members at one point.  Rev. Schuller became a TV fixture preaching on the “ Hour Of Power” from the $ 18million Crystal Cathedral Church.

Unfortunately, Rev. Schuller who is now 85 , developed  dementia  and had to step down in 2006 when he turned over the reins to his only son Robert A. Schuller. However, Robert Jr.’s  sisters and his brothers-in law , some of whom were board members, did not get along with Robert Jr.  He accused them of manipulating his father who had diminished mental capacity. Robert Jr. decided to leave the ministry in 2008.

The Crystal Cathedral Ministry suffered financially and the megachurch building was recently sold in bankruptcy proceedings to the Catholic church. According to an interview given by Robert Jr. in the Washington Post, it was sibling rivalry that led to the demise of the church. He also pointed out the lack of an independent board of directors.

This sad tale of a failed “family business” underscores the need for proper succession planning for the family business. The business owner needs to consult outside advisers such as lawyers, accountants and insurance specialists. As well, the business owner should consider appointing non-family members to sit on the board and/or management team. If the succession plan is to work, it is important for all siblings to be involved in the process whether they are involved in the business or not. A family business meeting chaired by a mediator can assist the business owner and all family members to draft a plan that will avoid a sibling fight that could potentially destroy the business.