Estate planning can be a sensitive subject. Many people expect their plans to only be unveiled after their passing, choosing to avoid creating unnecessary tension within their family. However, many times this is merely delaying the inevitable. Having an open conversation with family, while being able to talk through thought processes and rationale, can dissipate any unwarranted stress and animosity.
Holding a family meeting is a good way to do this. No financial information or specific asset values need to be disclosed at this time. This meeting should serve as a general explanation in order to let family members know what to expect and the intentions behind certain decisions.
As a financial advisor you should consider the value that you would add by attending such a meeting. Not only by being able to explain certain decisions in better detail, but also by building a rapport with your clients family – making it easier to talk with them in your clients absence.
Your presence at the meeting will add a certain gravitas. While open discussion should be encouraged, the meeting must be kept on the matter at hand. The meeting should have a set starting and finishing time. Having a list of topics on hand that should be discussed helps to ensure that there aren’t any vital points that are forgotten.
The meeting place is also an important factor in promoting earnest communication. Offering a conference room for your client to meet in can provide a neutral environment removed from distraction (and it would also save you a commute). If it is not possible for everyone to physically meet in a room then a video conferencing service such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, etc. can be utilized for a meeting.
You can expect there to be some apprehension as the meeting begins, but this is the very reason that the meeting is being held in the first place – to eradicate any feelings of uneasiness.
It is your duty to act as a moderator. Some subjects may be easier to broach if they come from a third-party outside of the family, such as yourself. With people living longer and long-term care expenses often lasting for years, it is important to give a rough idea of the size of any inheritances that may be received. If trusts are involved, explain why they are being used. If charitable giving is part of the plan, explain how this is in keeping with your clients values.
To many it seems normal to feel reluctance when it comes to sharing their estate plan with their family, but it shouldn’t. Explaining decisions to family now will help to avoid surprises and upsets in the future.
Your influence reaches further than your client’s financial wellbeing, and into their overall welfare.