The holidays are a wonderful time to relax, slow down and spend time with friends and loved ones. They also offer families a valuable opportunity to do something most people would rather avoid: talk about their shared financial interests.
Angie O’Leary, head of wealth planning at RBC Wealth Management-U.S., says it’s important for families to have open and frank dialogue about their shared assets and finances.
“While these can be delicate discussion topics at times, certainly, the outcomes are generally positive,” O’Leary says. “The process can help family members deal with issues that are bound to come up sooner or later.”
For many families with members living across the country or the globe, the holidays provide a great opportunity to have those conversations about things that will directly impact each family member’s financial future while everyone is together for a few days.
Studies show that families often avoid having discussions about their financial interests. But avoidance can lead to confusion down the road, when adult children must begin making financial decisions or take over managing their parents’ finances.
“It used to be considered taboo to discuss finances,” says O'Leary. “I think it’s a stigma that’s slow to change over the generations.”
Family meetings give everyone a chance to get up to speed on financial topics. Having an open and regular conversation can also reduce uncertainty and resentment on critical family issues, like inheritance planning or handing over the reins of a family business.
Holding a productive family meeting
While some people may put family meetings in the same category as a root canal, they are often surprised at how much good can come from the get-togethers, says Malia Haskins, a wealth strategist with RBC Wealth Management.
“The more knowledge that each person has, the better – and I think that’s particularly true when you’re talking about family finances,” she says.
But in order for the meeting to be worthwhile, family members must be willing to tackle difficult topics. Haskins recommends preparing an agenda to handle complex issues more efficiently. Key topics can cover a broad range from general financial well-being, to wills and trusts, to the condition of the family home. When there’s a younger generation involved, funding education is typically added to the agenda.
Start the discussion by prioritizing what you’d like to cover, and set a reasonable goal for the topics that can be addressed within the timeframe you have allotted.
“It may be a case where we need to talk about estate planning and help give parameters about why a trust may be beneficial,” Haskins says. “Or it may be, ‘By the way, Mom and Dad have quite a bit of money – a lot more than you thought – and they want to help you prepare for the responsibility of that money when they pass.’”
The problem with procrastinating
Perhaps the most important topics for discussion at a family meeting involve life insurance, planning for incapacity, and retirement planning – topics that family members may be prone to put off. “Finances are easy to push to the backburner, because of the immediate needs that come up,” O’Leary says.
Procrastinating on a difficult discussion can be a natural reflex, but it can leave you and your family in a vulnerable position. Take, for example, an unexpected family death.
“What if we don’t have a will or a trust and there is no insurance policy?” O’Leary says. “Then it’s too late, so it’s always better to get ahead of it.”
While a traditional one-on-one meeting with an advisor can accomplish a lot, it’s often the case that families tend to let one member handle financial decisions, which can lead to big problems if the individual with the purse strings unexpectedly becomes incapacitated, even for a short time. It’s important to have a plan to transfer capacity if needed using a Power of Attorney, and to ensure your assets are properly titled with current beneficiary designations.
Informing the next generation
With children and grandchildren in the picture, a regular meeting can also act as a sort of Finance 101, and a chance to break down complex financial issues into layman’s terms.
For instance, they may know how to use a debit and credit card, but they may be a bit shaky on fundamentals like the importance of paying bills on time, what a credit score is, and how a 401(k) works.
While scheduled meetings are helpful in this respect, keeping the conversations going is key.
“People don’t know what they don’t know,” says Haskins. “They do their own thing, they’re busy with life, they’ve got their own job or families or their own ambitions. This is just so far down on the list that for a lot of people it’s an afterthought.”
Scheduling meetings can be a hassle. But with the family already together over the holidays, updating the financial situation can help avoid future tensions. And sandwich lunches are a great way to get rid of leftover turkey.
This material is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified tax advisor, attorney, and accountant or insurance advisor. Consultation with the appropriate professional should be done before any financial commitments regarding the issues related to the situation are made.
RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.