Preparing Your Heirs
The Value of a Family Meeting
» by Jeffrey Janson, CFP®, AIFA®, Senior Wealth Advisor
Featured in our December 2020 / January 2021 issue of The Rational Optimist
One of the most challenging things to do as a human being is comptemplating one’s death. As a result, we tend to forestall thinking about it, planning for it, and even communicating about it. But this oversight can come with some serious repercussions!
History is replete with stories of multi-million dollar estates, left unplanned for. Famous people like Howard Hughes, Pablo Picasso, Martin Luther King, Prince, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, President Abraham Lincoln, and many others all died “intestate” (without a will) to guide the distribution of their respective estates. Their heirs were left to navigate a horrific mess without the benefit of clear direction or understanding of expectations from the person who created the wealth.
For most, estate litigation lasted for years and resulted in the estate being consumed by legal fees, while irreparable resentment and relational harm resulted between heirs to the estate. This type of outcome is a horrible result. One wonders if the decedent had foreknown that this would be the result, whether they would have instead chosen just to give it all to charity! No one benefits in such a scenario (except the attorneys!).
Some of this reluctance to speak about finances is generational. People of a certain generation were raised to believe it is gauche to talk about religion, politics, sex, or money in public (including in front of family). Some don’t know what to say about their estate or where to begin such a discussion. For those of you for whom this is true, here’s an idea: Do you know whether you have enough money to support you at your chosen level of consumption for the rest of your life?
If you don’t know this, you should talk with your Summit Wealth Advisor. We can help you answer this critical question and plan for the proper distribution of your estate. If it is determined that you have enough to provide for yourself through retirement and there will likely be a surplus at your passing, I’d like to encourage you to at least consider the idea of having a “family meeting.”
The purpose of the family meeting is to communicate openly, either in very general or specific terms, your current financial standing, your level of annual spending, and whether there might be a surplus that would pass to heirs at your death. You can also use this venue to express any desires, hopes, and dreams for how they might choose to use any money that may come to them at your passing.
You might benefit from a family meeting.
I say “general or specific terms” because dynamics vary widely from family to family. Some may feel that by divulging dollar specific information, heirs may be overly-focused on what is coming their way, possibly creating a financial disincentive for them to make their way in the world.
This scenario is not a healthy outcome. If this is the unfortunate reality of your family dynamics, then communicating just in general terms is wise. On the other hand, if your heirs are all well-adjusted, self-supporting, contributing members of society, you may feel that you can more readily share the specifics of your estate, up to and including dollar amounts. Such communication can go a long way toward easing unspoken concerns that your heirs may have regarding your future care.
Absent this information, and they may silently be worrying about how they will take care of you when the time comes. Any alleviation or communication that you can or willing to give them about this topic will be deemed a kindness because it answers unspoken concerns.
In such a case, heirs will be pleasantly surprised that they do not need to be concerned about how to afford your physical care. If surplus money is likely to come to them at your passing, you can communicate your heartfelt hopes and dreams for that money. Perhaps you wish it to be used to help get grandkids through college, or to help your kids pay off a mortgage, or to help them retire early, etc.
While you shouldn’t try to financially control your kids from the grave through your estate plan, it is wise to share your hopes for any money that may be coming their way. It gives them something to hold onto as a legacy from you. It provides some guidance, comfort, and direction and helps them not feel guilty about spending the inheritance that you leave them.
Having a family meeting while you are still living allows the family a venue for discussion and clarification of your estate plan’s intent. They can ask you questions; they can clarify your purpose; they can hash things out with you to consider different scenarios.
This discussion is invaluable and gives a mental and emotional “touchstone” to remember and think back on once you are gone. It also allows them to see your heart and hear you express any hopes and dreams you have for them. Your Summit Wealth Advisor can help you craft an agenda for and even facilitate such a family meeting. Just ask us. We are happy to help!
For further insight into this topic, see my book, How to Pass Your Wisdom Before Passing Your Wealth. It is available on Amazon.com.