How much about mom and dad’s financial picture should the kids be aware of? And when do kids need to know numbers and other hard details instead of just generalities?
As with most aspects of financial planning, there’s no simple, one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. Every family is different, and more to the point, every child is different. I’ve worked with folks whose college-age kids were extremely mature and more than ready to handle responsibilities from their parents’ estates. I’ve also worked with folks whose kids were pushing 30 and seemed more concerned about getting extended support from their parents than they were about being good executors and beneficiaries.
Once you’ve put together your estate planning essentials and you feel the time is right, the best way to bring your children into the process is by calling a family meeting. We are always honored when clients ask us to host and facilitate these meetings at the Keen Wealth offices. Our objective is to inform your children about the structure of your estate, and, to let them hear your wishes in person rather than after you’re gone.
However, we’re also sensitive to our clients’ unique family dynamics. No one knows your children better than you do. The sample agenda below will give you an idea of the important checkpoints we want to cover in a family meeting. But the amount of detail you want us to help you provide will depend on where you and your kids are in your lives, and, what you’re comfortable sharing during this incredibly important and personal sit-down meeting.
1. Advanced Health Care Directives
I understand that some folks want to be selective about how much financial info they share with their kids, especially early in retirement. But when it comes to your health care directives, total transparency is usually best. Your children should have a clear understanding of how you want to be cared for in the event you become incapacitated. We will discuss if you’ve signed a Do Not Resuscitate order stipulating a wish for natural death in certain circumstances. We’ll also tell them whom your living will designates as a health care proxy to make important medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so, and, who has power of attorney when it comes to paying for your health care costs. If your health care proxy and power of attorney designee are two different people, we want to make sure they’re both on the same page about your wishes before this part of the family meeting is over.
2. Estate Structure
The next step in the family meeting is to explain how you and your spouse have organized your estate. For most folks, this will be in the form of a Last Will and Testament, which explains your last wishes and how you want your estate distributed to heirs, beneficiaries, and charitable organizations.
Some folks choose to form a living trust to provide extra management for how their estate will be distributed. It’s called a “living” trust because the entity is created while the grantor is still alive. You maintain ownership of your property until you pass, at which point the trust becomes active and managed by your appointed trustee. The advantage of a trust is that you can add an extra layer of planning around how your assets will be managed after death and in the event that you become incapacitated. Trusts also pass on your property without involving probate court. In some cases that will save your heirs some legal fees and keep the proceedings private. However, in other cases, setting up and managing the trust may be more hassle than it’s worth.
There’s definitely some room for generalities here as we walk your kids through the structure you chose and how it will work. You might be content to simply explain the mechanics of your estate.
3. Asset Review and Distribution
In all my years of helping clients with these kinds of family meetings, I’ve found that more transparency is usually better, especially if you and your spouse are advanced in age. This is your opportunity to be as direct as possible with your heirs, and with your fiduciary advisor, about how you want your assets distributed. Yes, some feelings might get hurt as you outline what you have and how you want it distributed. But families who work through those feelings now will be more likely to have one less shock to deal with during the death of a loved one. We will also be in the room to help mediate if necessary, to try to keep outside family issues from affecting the discussion.
If you don’t think outlining all these details will work for your family, you certainly don’t have to do it. But, you should still make sure your kids at least know what provisions your estate makes to care for you and your spouse individually should one of you pass first, particularly living arrangements.
I also encourage clients to involve their children in any charitable giving their estate establishes. Talking about the causes that really matter to you and your family can help bring you all together and end our meeting on a positive note.
4. Closing Summary
The last step in our family meeting is to make sure that your children have all the important contact info they’ll need to settle your estate: your attorneys, your tax professionals, online passwords as appropriate, and most importantly, your Keen Wealth fiduciary advisor. Our commitment to you doesn’t end when you pass away. We will do whatever we can to help your heirs execute your last wishes and build the legacy you worked and planned for your whole life.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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