By Sandra D. Adams, CFP
If you are like most of the clients we work with, you work for years to get your complete financial plan in place – to get all aspects of your plan on track and in a good position to meet all of your long- and short-term goals. By the time you are close to retirement, you are likely feeling comfortable that your financial and investment planning is in a good place, that your risk management plan (including any life or long-term care insurance) is where it needs to be, that your estate plan is up to date and any funding for that is complete (including titling and beneficiaries), and that you have a solid charitable giving plan (if that is something that is important to you). You have likely worked with your financial planner to make sure your plan is one that meets the needs of both you and your spouse/partner and that it is flexible enough to meet any contingencies that may develop for either of you as you age. You are all on the same page and you feel good about your plan.
It is very likely that your estate planning documents themselves (wills and/or trusts) give a good amount of guidance as to how you want financial and other assets to be disbursed to your heirs after one or both of you are gone. The documents, along with your beneficiary designations and informal documents like a Personal Recordkeeping Document and Letter of Last Instruction can be instrumental written documents in informing the next generation as to your wishes about how you would like your personal affairs handled after your death.
But…isn’t there more to communicate to your heirs than your wishes about disbursement of your assets/your stuff and how to plan your memorial service?
How about family stories and family values that might better be communicated in person? How about passing on your wishes for how you might wish any family wealth to be handled and any money lessons that you’ve learned during your lifetime that you’d like to pass on to future generations? Why not consider a family meeting(s) as a part of your formal financial plan? This type of meeting would allow you to truly communicate some or all of these items to your children and any other family members in person through an open dialogue.
Creating your Family Meeting Agenda
Financial asset review. Would you like to give your family specifics about your financial position and assets or would you prefer to give them a more general overview of your financial plan? There is no right or wrong here. Some clients prefer to give their children a very clear and specific idea of assets so that they can plan more specifically for their own financial future. Others would prefer to keep the specifics less clear, so as not to set expectations for their children that may never materialize (if they should desire or find it necessary to spend their wealth for their own financial needs during their lifetimes).
Frame the conversation and topics to cover. This may begin with an overall discussion of how you have built your wealth and how you view and value what you have accumulated, your wishes for passing on any wealth to future generations and your hope for what that may do for them/how those funds may be handled, etc. If your plan is focused on any charitable giving goals, communicating why those are important and how your family can make sure those goals are carried on in the future is important.
Lifetime gifting. Many more clients have the desire to do gifting to family members during their lifetimes if they are financially able to. This allows them to have the joy of watching their families use and enjoy the funds while they are still alive rather than having the funds left to them after death. The funds are also available to family members at a time when they likely need the funds more (when they might be younger and struggling more) than later on in life. If this is something you are considering, having conversations about the gifting, what it means to you, and future expectations for gifts are important to have.
See the family as a learning system. As mentioned before, using the family meeting as a way to pass family values on from generation to generation is important. As part of this, telling stories to illustrate the importance of seeing mistakes as something to learn from is key. Future generations need to understand that we have all taken risks and made mistakes, but we have learned and grown from those mistakes and that is part of becoming a successful adult.
Support family members in leading lives with purpose. If you have grown your wealth significantly and know that you will likely be leaving considerable wealth to your children, you may be concerned that your children will be dependent on receiving that wealth. It is important to have conversations about the passing on of wealth and to be very intentional in supporting every family member to live a life with purpose and meaning for them. The family should be supportive of the differences it sees amongst family members, viewing those differences as contributions to the strength of the family.
Practice open and skillful communication. Families who already communicate well will likely have no problem having the conversations involved in discussing finances, gifting, inheritance, incapacity, and other difficult conversations. However, families that are not strong communicators to start may have some work to do in this area. For those families that may need some guidance, choosing to have a facilitator for family meetings is never a bad idea, especially if there might be some difficult conversations to be had, you anticipate some differences of opinion or you think you might have difficulty getting family members to participate in the conversations.
The family meeting may turn into a need for a series of meetings for many families. And as your life develops and changes, the purpose of the family meeting itself may change. For instance, as you age, you may need to hold a family meeting to discuss your plans for your “aging” retirement plan, plan of care, or other important topics. The family meeting is a key communication tool that completes the process of a well-rounded financial plan – without communicating your plan to your family, many facets of the plan can be lost. Consider adding “Scheduling a Family Meeting” to your overall financial plan.
About the author: Sandra D. Adams, CFP®
Sandra D. Adams, CFP® can be reached at 248-948-7900, Center for Financial Planning, Inc., 24800 Denso Drive, Ste. 300, Southfield, MI 48033. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services offered through Center for Financial Planning, Inc. Center for Financial Planning, Inc., is not a registered broker/dealer and is independent of Raymond James Financial Services. Any opinions are those of Sandra D. Adams, and not necessarily those of Raymond James.
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design) and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete the CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.
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