BY: DAVID RUSSELL, CFP®, CSA®
Vice President & Trust Officer | (601) 707-0008
I have spent the past 35 years working for wealth management companies to help families plan for their future, focusing on estate plan design and trust management. During that time, nearly every client says one of their top financial goals is to never be a burden on their children. So, as financial advisors we create plans so their children never have to write a check for their care.
As clients age, however, the adult children are rarely involved in difficult conversations that need to be held about what happens when Mom or Dad aren’t as independent as they are now. Our clients are prepared, but the families as a whole are not.
When I became the financial caregiver to my own parents and I gained a new appreciation for the role (and responsibility). It also led me to write a book on the subject”: “What You Need to Know: The Adult Child’s Guide to Becoming a Financial Caregiver” to help families talk about money issues sooner than later. Here are some of the tips I’ve earned over the years that will help families better plan for their financial future:
Get Everyone In the Same Room
Families need to be on the same page when it comes to creating, implementing and managing a financial plan, especially for clients over the age of 70. It’s vital that families hold what I call the “Who Does What When Meeting” that includes at least one of the adult children. The purpose of this meeting is to pull back the curtain however much the parents want in order to answer questions that have been swirling in their kids’ minds but they’ve not worked up the nerve to ask. “Do Mom and Dad have enough money for the rest of their lives?” “Who is in charge if something happens to one or both of them?” “Where are they going to live?” This meeting opens up tremendous communication opportunities between families that they may not have had in years.
Set Ground Rules For Meetings
The first step in holding the family meeting is to set the ground rules about what will be discussed. Have the parents set parameters about how much of the curtain they intend to pull back at this meeting. Advisors should not play the role of family therapist, but act as a facilitator to stimulate conversations about the future. Open and honest discussion will help everyone make wiser decisions. If it gets too dicey, then call a time out so everyone can take a breath and get back on track.
Always Have a Written Agenda
A written agenda is a valuable tool to ensure meetings achieve desired results and within the allotted time. Distribute the agenda prior to the meeting to provide family members the opportunity to prepare in advance.
Set Aside Enough Time & Limit Distractions
I’m a big believer in having an all-day “Who Does What When Meeting” so there’s enough time to cover the financial plan – and provide necessary breaks because the meetings are often emotionally draining. It’s also imperative to keep the family focused, so limit the use of cellphones to make calls, send texts and read email.
Plan Follow-up Sessions
Have a plan for follow-up meetings to help the family stay on track. Consider having four-to-eight follow-up sessions to cover everything from family dynamics to estate planning. Also include discussion exercises and even games to keep the interest high and the mood light.
Create a Written Plan
Use the final session to develop a written Action Plan based on the discussions of the prior sessions. Assign specific tasks and deadlines to the family and/or the advisor team to address any unfinished business and close any loose ends. Hopefully, by the end of the retreat everyone has a greater understanding of one another, and the adult children have a greater appreciation for their parents’ wishes both now and as they age.
Will this approach prevent conflicts from ever arising? Certainly not. But it will open lines of communication between parents and their adult children and help achieve the ultimate goal: securing the financial for the parents.
David W. Russell, CFP®, CSA® is Vice President and Trust Officer with Argent Trust in Ridgeland, Mississippi.