Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Family Meeting?

Last week I read a commentary by a fellow estate planning attorney, and I shook my head in disagreement.  His position is that upon creating an estate plan, the client should hold a family meeting.  Ideally the lawyer and financial planner would be present as well, and the gathering would allow for those nominated in the plan to receive a tutorial on "what happens when illness or death strikes".  Of course, said attorney facilitates such meetings, most likely at his billable rate.

Why was a shaking my head?  This blanket approach will not work with all families.  I routinely advise my clients to let those nominate know 1) you have created documents, 2) where those documents can be found, 3) provide copies of powers of attorney to those nominated, and 4) keep the details to yourself.  If you want to share the details fine, but what if you change your mind?  It happens, and it happens more than you might think.

Air out your decisions may be a good thing, and it may not.  Ask yourself what good will come from holding a family meeting.  Would clear written instructions be good enough?  Whether the net assets are seven figures or five, emotions run high when a loved ones dies.  A meeting might air out tensions while you are alive to address them, or it may cause anger and upset that is unneeded.  Case in point, new parents share with husband's mother the selection of guardian for their newborn son.  The decision to nominate friends, not family, causes his mother a fair amount of upset.  As long as those parents do not die, the guardianship will never come into existence.  Yet, the grandmother spends the rest of her years a wee bit upset with the decision.  Had I been able to advise the husband before he told his mother I would have suggested "we have  paperwork in place, it's taken care of, but we are not sharing the details.  Might the grandmother have been miffed, possibly, but it would likely have been less than knowing relatives were not selected.  Family meetings?  They might be a good idea, and then again maybe not.  You decide.

The newborn who slept though the "discussion" about who'd be his guardian.  
Can you guess who the parents are?
Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013

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