Let’s face it. None of us is getting any younger. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead. For some of you, that means putting aside money for retirement, a home, or a child’s education. But, for those who have already accumulated wealth, it may be time to start thinking about how you will transfer your wealth – to children, grandchildren, other loved ones or important causes – at the end of your life. One of the best ways to get started is by having a family meeting.
Why a Family Meeting?
One of the most important reasons is just to get the estate-planning conversation started. Often, it’s uncomfortable to discuss money with family members. People can get defensive, competitive, embarrassed or unwilling to talk about a loved one’s cognitive decline, illness or advancing age. Research by the National Endowment for Financial Education showed that seven in 10 people believe major barriers prevent their families from communicating openly about who will make financial decisions for an aging family member if needed.
Who Should Attend?
While the answer often depends on your family and your circumstances. If you are married or in a committed relationship, your spouse or your partner should be involved, and ideally, the two of you should be in agreement on the direction. You may also invite immediate and/or extended family. Make sure you have an agenda, and that there are no surprises to derail your efforts. No need to make the situation seem even more difficult for those who are uncomfortable.
You may also wish to have your financial advisor attend – or even facilitate – the meeting. First, your financial advisor has likely worked with you to develop your estate plan and would be comfortable explaining it to your family. Second, your advisor can act as a neutral third party in the event of an argument or hurt feelings. Third, your advisor can manage the agenda, freeing you to participate more fully in the conversation. And finally, you will be able to introduce your family’s next generation to a seasoned advisory firm.
What Should You Talk About?
Again, your situation and your family circumstances will dictate the topics. You might consider starting with an overview of your values and philosophy about money and how those played into the creation of your desire to leave a legacy. You might also discuss where to find important documents, your end-of-life preferences, the location of your will and who your executor will be.
When Should You Meet?
The ideal time to meet is before your situation becomes critical – in other words, before you become sick or incapacitated. Remember, a woman’s life expectancy is greater than a man’s. Among older couples, the husband could die before his wife, and if she has not played an active role in managing the couple’s finances, she likely would need some time to understand her husband’s financial decisions.
Meet as often as you need to with your family to ensure a smooth transition of wealth. A lack of ongoing communication or trust could lead to future generations losing their fortune, according to a study of 3,200 high-net-worth families by the Williams Group wealth consultancy. The study found that about seven in 10 families lose their wealth by the second generation, and that nine out of ten families lose their fortunes by the third generation.
At M.J. Smith & Associates, we are experienced in helping our clients organize and conduct family meetings. If you would like to begin the estate planning conversation with your loved ones, we would be honored to help. Contact your advisor or call us at 303-768-0007.