You don't have to wait for a holiday to bring up family finances, and you don't have to let financial discussion ruin a perfectly good holiday dinner.
Back in November, we had several financial advisors suggest that families use the Thanksgiving and winter holidays to discuss estate planning. The prevailing sentiment was that the holidays are a time when the family is together anyway, so why not use that time to bring those issues to light?
Kim Dula, a partner at Friedman LLP, was particularly fond of the idea of using a family holiday gathering to discuss estate planning. With families spread out across the country or around the world, she said, the holidays offer present a rare opportunity for such discussion.
“The key to it, quite frankly, is not having the element of surprise,” Dula says. “If mom and dad are serious about having a discussion with their family about their estate planning intentions, they have to let the family members know that this is going to occur while the family is together. It can't be the family just sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner and an estate planning issue comes up.”
But, if that's the case, why not get the family together to discuss those issues specifically. Anthony D. Criscuolo, certified financial planner with Palisades Hudson Financial Group's Fort Lauderdale, Fla. office, suggests setting up a family meeting to get financial issues out in the open. He also notes that families “don’t necessarily have to be in the 1% to benefit from having one or more family meetings” on various financial topics.
“Whenever something major changes, a general meeting can give family members permission to talk frankly about the long-term implications, financial and otherwise,” he says.
He notes that a wedding, a baby or a major windfall (lottery winnings, business transactions, etc.) or even major setbacks including job loss or a death in the family are all ideally discussed through a family meeting. However, if a family hasn't done this before, Criscuolo suggests having an initial big-picture meeting to go over the family's financial situation and long-term plans.
“Don’t make decisions at the first meeting,” Criscuolo says. “Instead, try to achieve understanding between various family members about financial matters.”
While families with greater wealth can use this as a launching point for charitable trusts and other philanthropy, it could also revolve around a shared family business. Criscuolo notes that family members who are intimately involved in the business’s day-to-day operations may want to use that time to keep family members with less involvement updated. It also serves as a barometer for younger adult family members who may either want a greater role in the business or may want to dynasty trust or the succession plan for that business.