Are your beneficiaries prepared to handle their inheritance?
The passing of a loved one can be a very emotional time for a beneficiary. In addition to the emotional strain, there are many financial matters that need to be taken care of following the loss of a loved one, which often become a source of added confusion and expense.
Making sure your beneficiaries have good advice on managing their inheritance and on the immediate steps to be taken is an often-overlooked detail of an estate plan.
Choosing professionals carefully is crucial
Many beneficiaries will rely on their current financial advisers for help with this, which is a good practice if the adviser has extensive estate knowledge on the unique circumstances of the assets being inherited. Unfortunately, we often find that beneficiaries have unknowingly missed opportunities; they pay more in taxes, forego lost investment opportunities, or receive fragmented advice which does not take into account how the inheritance can effectively be integrated with the collective sum of their entire present financial picture.
We also find that a lack of organized communication between all parties during the inheritance process is a common source of fractured family relationships between siblings after their parents pass away. In an effort to help prevent these problems from occurring, we suggest having family meetings.
When are family meetings helpful?
Family meetings can be useful at three distinct times.
First, while both of you are healthy, meet together with your children and your advisers to review the estate plan and ensure everyone is on the same page. This can provide clarity with what to expect in the future.
Most people have a lifetime of knowledge that never gets imparted to the next generation because traditional estate planning typically only covers the financial side of the planning process. Use this time to educate your spouse and/or children on your desired legacy – i.e. what is important to you and how you would want to see the inheritance you leave used.
Inheritances are often squandered rather than used in a meaningful way to open new life opportunities. Clearly articulating the reasons for how you made your estate planning decisions and sharing your hopes for the future may provide the clarity needed to successfully transfer assets and wisdom to the next generation.
A second time when a family meeting can make sense is after one spouse passes away and the surviving spouse needs help getting everything completed and organized for their future. This may entail a meeting between the surviving spouse and the applicable advisers (e.g. accountant, attorney, or financial adviser).
If the surviving spouse feels overwhelmed, we encourage including their children in the meeting if desired, as they can help with the many tasks needing completion.
By the end of this meeting, the surviving spouse should have a clear understanding of everything that needs to get done along with the names of those who will be responsible for each task. The following illustrates some of the tasks that may apply even for individuals who have a completed estate plan:
Finally, a third family meeting can happen following the death of the second spouse. Many of the same tasks mentioned above will again need to be coordinated. This meeting should also be designed to provide clarity to all of the beneficiaries and to help prevent sibling animosity.
Providing transparency to all beneficiaries on what is happening, why it is happening, and when will it happen, may help prevent the negative and divisive feelings that frequently occur when certain siblings don’t feel like they are being kept in the loop.
When done correctly, the family meeting process can provide a surviving spouse and children with several benefits, including:
- Clarity for the surviving spouse and children on what needs to get done, when it will be done, and who will be doing it
- Reduced workload on a surviving spouse, as tasks can be spread out among the advisers and/or children
- Reduced sibling animosity due to greater transparency
- Emotional support
- A legacy that passes wisdom regarding your hopes and dreams for how your beneficiaries use and appreciate what you have provided for them
We believe family meetings are one of the key ingredients for successfully transferring assets and wisdom to the next generation. We believe these meetings should include advisers who have been through the inheritance process many times with their existing clients, as these advisers are generally aware of the potential problems as well as opportunities that are frequently missed.