Personal Finance

A Family Conversation on Estate Planning

Estate planning can be difficult. For many of us, the first hurdle in developing a sound estate plan is coming to grips with our own mortality.

Estate planning forces you to accept the inevitability of your own demise, as well as the possibility of your eventual incapacity or disability. Then, as if that weren’t enough of a challenge, you’re often met with a confusing maze of jargon and decisions to make that can leave you frozen in your tracks—with documents unfinished, accounts incorrectly titled, and trusts unfunded. And while much of that seems to be the difficult part, in reality it’s child’s play compared to the real elephant in the room when it comes to estate planning: the family conversation.

1. Who should join in the conversation?

Having a family conversation involves sitting down with your loved ones, the beneficiaries of your estate, and the caretakers you have selected—including executors, trustees, guardians, and investment managers. The purpose of the meeting is to ensure that everyone involved in the eventual management and settlement of your estate plan understands your wishes, their role in your estate plan, what to expect from that role, and who they can look to for guidance and advice when executing that role.

2. Why is a conversation on estate planning so important?

Death and money are two of the most uncomfortable topics to have a conversation about. Privacy regarding specific financial details is often a key concern, even among close family members, and conversations about death and disability can become emotional when loved ones are concerned. There are, however, significant benefits to having the conversation.

Financial benefits. You may, for example, assume that one or more of your survivors will be comfortable performing key roles in your estate plan. By giving them the opportunity to understand the requirements of the role, you may learn that, in reality, they may not be the best person for the job. From their perspective, having an opportunity to hear your intentions and plans for your estate ahead of time will help them plan for the day their services are required. Lack of communication and understanding of an estate plan can result in decreased benefits for beneficiaries, along with increased stress and conflict for surviving family members. Discussing everything ahead of time can help reduce those risks.

If you are the key decision maker when it comes to the financial matters in your family, this is also a good time to ensure that your survivors are well-equipped to take over in your absence. Being unprepared to properly manage the investment needs of the estate can lead to indecision or poor decisions that result in lost investment opportunity, reduced growth, and even losses for beneficiaries. In addition, this is a great opportunity to include your Janney Financial Advisor in the conversation, so that everyone is properly prepared.

Emotional benefits. Beyond the purely financial benefits of such a conversation, the emotional benefits for the family can be broad-reaching. Through an open dialogue, you may find other members of your family becoming more empowered and involved in the family financials. You’ll help everyone develop a common sense of family values, which can help you develop a long-lasting family legacy. And you’ll likely find that other family members, including parents, children, other relatives, and loved ones, will take the initiative to develop their own responsible financial and estate plans as a result of the open communication.

3. How do I get started planning the conversation?

Despite all of the benefits, however, a family conversation may still be difficult to get started. Here are a few suggestions that may help you bring everyone together.

  • First, be sincere about making this an open conversation. While letting everyone know of your wishes is a key element in the conversation, it should also be an opportunity for the rest of the family to express their hopes, fears, and concerns. The outcome of this conversation should be an estate plan that everyone has had an opportunity to understand, and for which they’ve all had a chance to provide their personal input.
  • Second, pick a time and place of relative calm to focus on the conversation. Avoid major holiday gatherings or family events, and consider selecting a neutral location where everyone can meet.

4. How can my Janney Financial Advisor help?

To help you prepare and get the most out of your family conversation, we suggest you meet with your Janney Financial Advisor prior to meeting with your family. Your advisor can:

  • Provide you with our Estate Organizer planning tool, to help you gather and organize your financial and estate information.
  • Review information about your current beneficiaries, powers of attorney, and account registration.
  • Provide a report of your current assets.

Also, consider taking what may be an extremely beneficial extra step: Plan a meeting with your Janney advisor along with the other professionals you work with, including your attorney and your accountant. Together, they can review your estate plan—and make sure there are no gaps in advice or services that could potentially derail or complicate your plan.

For more information or help on bringing up the topic of estate planning with your family, or for help coordinating a conversation with your family, speak with your Janney Financial Advisor. Also, if you need a comprehensive estate plan, contact your Financial Advisor, who can help you work with a planner.

Martin Schamis, CFP
Head of Wealth Planning

Martin Schamis is Head of Wealth Planning in the firm’s Wealth Management division. In this role, Martin is responsible for the strategic direction of the Planning Solutions Group that supports more than 740 Financial Advisors who advise Janney’s retail client base.

Martin joined Janney from The Vanguard Group, where he spent the majority of his 11-year tenure as Senior Manager of Financial Planning and Advice Services. During his time there, he helped launch several successful financial planning initiatives, including redesigning Vanguard’s comprehensive financial planning offering as well as developing a solution connecting clients with Vanguard’s CFP® professionals for situational advice. Prior to Vanguard, Martin worked as a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley. He is a Certified Financial Planner® professional and holds FINRA Series 7, 66, and 24 licenses. Martin graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Physics and Art from the University of Delaware and received an MBA in Finance from St. Joseph’s University.

This is for informative purposes only and in no event should be construed as a representation by us or as an offer to sell, or solicitation of an offer to buy, any securities. The factual information given herein is taken from sources that we believe to be reliable, but is not guaranteed by us as to accuracy or completeness. Opinions expressed are subject to change without notice and do not take into account the particular investment objectives, financial situation, or needs of individual investors. Employees of Janney Montgomery Scott LLC or its affiliates may, at times, release written or oral commentary, technical analysis, or trading strategies that differ from the opinions expressed within.

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