By Lindsey Allard
Peace on earth may be a tall order this holiday season, but peace of mind could certainly be within reach for your clients and their families. Particularly this year, when political tensions are high and uncertainly abounds, changing the narrative to a focus on family values, financial goals and legacy can serve to unite the family around a shared vision for the future.
Especially for families that are broadly dispersed geographically, the holidays may be one of the few times of the year when everyone is together. That’s why, when presented in the right way, it can be a perfect time to either open a dialogue or continue discussions around family wealth and intergenerational planning.
Wealth Management Advisor Role
Financial advisors can play an intricate role in helping clients prepare for a meaningful and productive family wealth discussion during the holidays. Knowing their clients as well as they do, they can suggest the most appropriate format and content of the meeting based on the unique characteristic of each client.
For instance, for families that are very hierarchical, with parents making all the decisions alone, the approach to wealth discussions will be much different than for families that are more open and democratic in their decision making.
Advisors can offer guidance when it comes to the parameters of the family meeting.
What to Discuss
Whether it will be the first time clients broach the subject of their estate plan or if they are already in a process of regular communication, a family meeting during the holidays is probably not the best time to get into complex financial details. Focusing on the equally important non-financial factors would be a better approach.
Because the holidays are a time for reflection and perspective, it could work well to start the meeting by talking about the family history and how family values contributed to wealth creation. From there, a very worthwhile and oftentimes fun exercise can be to work together on crafting a family mission statement—one that articulates family wealth principles and encourages family members to lead productive lives in keeping with those standards.
The discussion could then broadly touch on plans to manage family assets, support charitable causes and transfer wealth to future generations. Above all, the focus should be positive and make clear that financial matters should never lead to family disharmony.
On a more practical level, the location of wills, powers of attorney, trust documents, and funeral instructions should be shared as well as contact information for the client’s wealth management advisor, estate planning attorney and accountant.
When and Where to Meet
A potentially positive experience could go dreadfully awry if not handled properly. To that end, the conversation is probably better planned over breakfast rather than cocktail hour. Also, those who will participate in the meeting should gather somewhere away from the earshot and distractions of other family members.
Why Communication Is So Important
One of the most regrettable mistakes families can make is to miss the opportunity to share their vision for the future of the family wealth. If a meeting over the holidays will be the first time clients discuss their estate plan, it should certainly not be the last.
Follow up meetings should be a part of the communication plan. Ideally, all of the meetings should be in person as non-verbal reactions are so crucial—something you can’t capture over the phone. But, if it’s not possible for the family to meet face-to-face, advisors should recommend video conferencing as an alternative.
A well planned, iterative and inclusive process of wealth transfer will greatly minimize the chances of family conflict and enhance the likelihood that family wealth will continue to grow and be preserved and honor the highest aspirations of the family for generations to come.
Wealth advisors can play a vital role in helping clients frame the issues and establish a plan of ongoing and effective communication to achieve those goals. Furthermore, for advisors who become a resource to the family in this process, the chances of solidifying relationships throughout the family and thereby continuing to serve NextGen clients can greatly improve.
Lindsey is a financial advisor at Beirne Wealth Consulting, a privately owned, SEC-registered investment advisor with about $2 billion in assets under management and over 25 employees in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Florida.