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Financial Planning > UHNW Client Services > Family Office News

'Softer' Side of Planning More Important to Clients Than Documents

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You can have a meaningful impact on your clients’ estate planning by helping to transfer family values from one generation to the next. A recent survey conducted by Age Wave Consulting asked Americans aged 45 years and older, “What’s most important to pass on to the next generation?”

The survey results revealed that the number one answer was “values and life lessons” from 74% of the respondents. The answer “financial assets or real estate” came in last. Ranked in between were “instructions and wishes to be fulfilled” and “personal possessions of emotional value.” This form of legacy planning can help advisors enrich and enhance client relationships and make connections to the next generation of wealth so that advisors maintain assets when clients pass.

Traditionally legacy planning has focused on the legal documents and financial techniques needed to transfer tangible assets. But with people now placing just as much value, if not more, on their family relationships, advisors can add tremendous value by paying attention to the “softer” or emotional side that also encompasses passing on a family’s legacy.

Your clients likely have stories and experiences they can share about their family history, cherished memories, and hopes for the future. Family meetings are one way you can add value as an advisor and help facilitate this transfer of knowledge, in addition to outlining what their estate documents say and conveying their intentions.

Family meetings also can help to better explain clients’ rationale for why they made the wealth management decisions on giving financial assets/property to whoever they did, and answer questions about any concerns the children may have about their parent’s future living arrangements, health-related decisions, and expectations for responsibilities related to caregiving.

As a result, there are many nuances for family meetings advisors should think about and experts in this area have several best practices, including developing and distributing an agenda in advance of the meeting. This step might seem formal for a family meeting but having clear ideas about what will be discussed will allow your clients and attendees to focus on the task at hand and not have the meeting devolve into just another family gathering.

To make the meeting optimal, pick a neutral location to have the meeting. Given the possible sensitive topics that may come up, it’s a good idea to have the meeting at a location that is not loaded with emotion (like your client’s home, for example). A change of scenery also can have the effect of shifting the mindset of those attending to think about the issues being discussed in a different way.

Prior to the meeting be sure to set ground rules, such as establishing and communicating guidelines about who gets to speak, how you’ll take turns speaking, and how people can signal that they need a break. Try to keep the atmosphere positive and open so that everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas.

At the conclusion of the meeting provide a recap and close with a plan of action. Towards the end of the meeting, summarize what was discussed and if there are issues that need to be resolved, and determine who will do what. It also is helpful to distribute a written communication after the meeting so that everyone has a record of what was discussed.

As an advisor and facilitator, you can encourage effective communication and provide the wealth creators the opportunity to share their wishes with their loved ones. Helping your clients be proactive about discussing their intangible legacy can have a lasting impact and strengthen your relationship not just with your clients but their heirs as well, ensuring that you maintain your role at the center of your client’s wealth discussions.

Kara Duckworth is head of Client Experience for Mercer Advisors, which is the parent company of Mercer Global Advisors, an SEC-registered financial services firm.


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