You have the definite feeling that your client is worrying about some issues relating to the family and wealth and doesn’t want to “bother” you about it. It comes up during the estate-planning meeting, when talking about trusts for the children. Your client hesitates about one child and is enthusiastic about the other. You ask about the hesitation—Is there something you should know to do planning that fits the family?
Actually, we’ve found that being able to encourage a family to have family meetings can be the best solution. So often, the issues that aren’t spoken about and seem to be “off limits” can be brought up in the context of a good family meeting. It’s amazing to see how issues can be put on the table, discussed with respect and lead to new understandings of each other.
So you might want to share that many successful (happy) families have regular family meetings. One very well-known family tells their friends that the family meetings are the most important thing they do.
The First Meeting
In fact, here’s an idea for the first meeting. Let’s assume all of the children are at least age 18. Explain to your client that the children should be thinking about making their own wills (and begin thinking about prenups--to get used to the idea). Offer to meet with the children to answer their general questions about wills, trusts and prenups. This could be the topic of a first family meeting. You would be the moderator of the meeting and keep to general, simple questions. We’re guessing that this topic—being welcomed into a discussion—would be a breath of fresh air for everyone.
As a concrete project, it might fit in well to explain at the meeting that as soon as the child is of a legal age (usually 18) to be able to write her own wills, it’s smart to do that. Children can help the family wealth move sideways (to siblings) instead of going back upstream to parents. It might also be smart to start signing durable powers of attorney.
Educate the Children
The long-term goal is to have children become educated in this area that will affect their lives so much and so often. If they are welcomed to ask you questions, call you and even meet with you—you’re helping the whole family. At the same time, you’re building a relationship with the younger generation, and they may decide they would like to keep you as their advisor, when the time comes. (We’ve heard that some 95 percent of beneficiaries leave their parents’ corporate trustee when the generation changes.)
Being able to talk about all the estate planning issues, and options, takes a big elephant out of the closet!