Values and Life Lessons for Estate Planning
Money, coupled with sometimes complicated family dynamics, can bring its own gravitational pull that can be distracting and interfere with the parents’ ability to communicate their own values and estate planning needs. Family meetings can help facilitate a transfer of family values from one generation to the next.
The Importance of Legacy Planning
A recent survey asked Americans aged 45 years and older, “What’s most important to pass on to the next generation?” The consulting firm, Age Wave Consulting, was surprised to find the #1 answer – from 74% of the respondents – was “values and life lessons.” The answer “financial assets or real estate” came in last. Ranked in between were “instructions and wishes to be fulfilled” and “personal possessions of emotional value.”
It is easy to simply pass on financial assets and hope your values go with it. Unless you have a legacy plan that you have created and attended to with the same thoughtfulness you give to your wealth management, many successful families fall into the trap of “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations,” meaning that the wealth gained in one generation is lost by the third generation. Despite having financial advantages, a lack of guidance can lead to your heirs feeling unmotivated, unhappy or unsuccessful, and they may not fully utilize all of the advantages that come with the financial assets or legacy plan that you are leaving behind.
Using Family Meetings to Share Values and Legacy Plans
One of the difficulties of legacy planning is that estate planning traditionally focuses more on the legal documents and financial techniques needed to transfer tangible assets, and pays little attention to talking about and sharing your thoughts on what you would like your children or grandchildren to learn about your values.
Family meetings are one way you can facilitate this transfer of knowledge. If they are done well, and with professional support, we find that most adult children are thankful that their parents gathered them together to:
- Share cherished family values and stories
- Outline what their estate documents say and convey their intentions
- Explain their rationale as to why they made the wealth management decisions on giving financial assets/property to whomever they did
- Provide detailed funeral instructions
- Answer questions about any concerns the children have about parents’ future living arrangements, health, and expectations for responsibilities related to caregiving
Having a third-party facilitator can help keep the meetings focused, productive, and remove a level of emotion that may arise from having these kinds of difficult conversations. We are often asked to serve as the family’s trusted advisors at these kinds of meetings. In this role, we facilitate the discussion, providing the wealth creators the opportunity to share their wishes with their loved ones (including end of life decisions), convey expectations for handling of financial assets, and help resolve family conflicts in a comfortable environment.
Most of us think we are done with estate planning when we sign the last documents in that big binder that holds our wills and trusts. In reality, addressing your tangible assets is only the starting point – being proactive about discussing your intangible legacy can be even more impactful for the next generation, and crucial to helping them navigate your legacy. A family meeting can provide you and your family with peace of mind. Please contact your advisor if you are interested in our help facilitating your own family meeting.
Tips for having a productive family meeting:
- Develop and distribute an agenda in advance of the meeting. For a family meeting this step might seem formal, but having a clear idea about what will be shared and discussed will allow you and your family to focus on the task at hand, and ensure the meeting does not devolve into just another family gathering.
- If possible, pick a neutral location to have the meeting. Given the possible sensitive topics that may come up, it’s a good idea to have the meeting at a location that is not loaded with history and emotion, such as the family home. A change of scenery can also have the effect of shifting the mindset of those attending, so that they think about the issues being discussed in a different way.
- Set ground rules. Before the start of the meeting, establish and communicate guidelines about who gets to speak, how you’ll take turns speaking, and how people can signal that they need a break. Try to keep the atmosphere positive and open, so that everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas.
- Give a recap and close with a plan of action. Towards the end of the meeting, summarize what was discussed. If there are issues that need to be resolved, determine who will do what. It might also be helpful to send out a written communication after the meeting so that everyone has a record of what was discussed.
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