Hannah Boundy, CFA®, CFP®
The Family Meeting: How to Have the Hard Conversations About Your Estate with Your Heirs
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
When it comes to building a meaningful financial legacy, one important step is taking the time to communicate that legacy to those you hope will participate in carrying it out. Often, this means having a family meeting with your children about your estate plans. While this can be an intimidating event, we hope to offer a few tips for making it a productive and stress-free experience.
1.) Create an agenda ahead of time
One of the easiest ways to ensure the conversation goes well is to create a meeting agenda ahead of time. This can be as simple as sitting down with your partner and making a list of key points you hope to address during the conversation. Once you have that list, you can then use it during the conversation to stay on track. If you find the discussion veering off course, consult your list and bring the conversation back to one of the critical points you want to address.
2.) Share what you’re comfortable sharing
This may seem like an obvious tip, but we find it’s worth pointing it out. As with any other area of your personal finances, you are ultimately in charge and get to decide what to share and what not to share. We’ve found that families often want their heirs to know the intentions of their legacy plan but may not be comfortable sharing the specifics, particularly when it comes to the numbers themselves.
For many, an inheritance is a gift they hope to give to their loved ones. Still, they don’t want the knowledge of that impending gift to detract from encouraging their loved ones to live responsible, financially healthy lifestyles. In response to that concern, we would say it’s perfectly fine not to share balances. Instead, focus on sharing intentions and logistics.
Use this conversation as an opportunity to share with your family what you’re passionate about and the legacy you hope to leave with your wealth. This can also be a unique opportunity to learn more about them and their passions and explore ways to live meaningfully as a family in the present.
3.) Share relevant logistical information
In addition to sharing your intentions, it’s a good idea to share any relevant logistical information that your family members may need to know to execute your estate plan. This may include information like finding the estate plan and contact information for relevant professionals, such as your financial advisor, CPA, and attorney.
Even the most well-intentioned estate plans can be derailed by a lack of awareness that they exist. And given the cost of many estate plans, it would be a waste to put time and money into building a good plan meant to offer your heirs a stress-free way of distributing your estate, only to have your heirs stressed anyway because they can’t find anything. Make it easy on them by organizing that information ahead of time and sharing it with them.
4.) Let them know what you’d like them to be responsible for
If you’re comfortable, let your heirs know ahead of time what role you intend for them to play in executing your estate. It may seem simple to you to name a specific family member as your trustee or executor only to discover during the conversation that they’re not comfortable being asked to execute those duties. They may be concerned about how that role may affect their relationships with other family members and request not to be listed. This is something you should know to make alternative arrangements, which may include naming a different member of the family or opting for a corporate trustee.
This is also a chance to address specific details of your will, such as who you’d like to leave a family pet to (are they willing and able?) or who you’d like to leave certain family heirlooms to (who will get mom’s wedding ring?). These can be difficult conversations to have, but they also give you a chance to explicitly tell your family what your intentions are for specific items, which may save them some relational hardship after you’re gone.
Again, it’s ultimately up to you to share what you’re comfortable with, but taking the time to share some of these items also has the helpful consequence of giving you peace of mind knowing you’ve laid out your explicit wishes.
5.) Address any items that may affect how your family plans for their own financial futures
While you certainly don’t need to share specific numbers, it can be helpful for heirs to know if you have specific financial intentions that may affect how they plan for their own futures. For instance, if you plan on leaving the bulk of your estate to charity, it may be helpful to let your heirs know so they can plan responsibly for their own futures, particularly if they were counting on some sort of inheritance that isn’t coming.
Alternatively, if there is a family member with special needs, it’s a good idea to let everyone know if and how you plan to provide for that member once you’re gone. That way, if siblings are concerned they might need to step in and assist with care, they can know how best to plan for that outcome.
While having a financial family meeting (or even regular family meetings) with your loved ones about your estate may seem daunting, it can be an incredibly meaningful experience, particularly when sharing your passions and the legacy you hope to leave with your family. We highly recommend taking the time to fully understand your estate plan in advance and spend some time laying out a plan for how you hope to navigate a conversation about it with your heirs.
If you’d like help understanding your plan and how best to share it, we’d be happy to assist you. Schedule an introductory call with our team of legacy planners today to get started.