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It’s a Family Affair: Talking to Your Family about Financial Planning

Posted by Katie O'Connor | Director of Client Services
August 15, 2018

Making Estate Planning a Family AffairThe “Godfather of Soul,” James Brown, had a noble vision for how he wanted his assets distributed after his passing. His will had set aside $2 million for his grandchildren’s education, and he would also set aside millions of dollars for the education of underprivileged children in Georgia and South Carolina.

Eleven years after his passing, not a penny has gone to these beneficiaries of his will.

The reason: ongoing legal battles, as family members challenge Mr. Brown’s will in court and multiple parties argue over the assets in his estate. More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed since Mr. Brown passed away in 2006, and one of them involves nine of Mr. Brown’s children and grandchildren suing the estate’s administrator as well as Mr. Brown’s widow, Tommie Rae Hynie.[1]

James Brown carefully crafted his estate plan to focus on education and his community, yet his wishes are arguably yet to be fulfilled. It leaves one to wonder: what if Mr. Brown had gathered his entire family together, had very frank and candid discussions about his estate plan, and told his family explicitly that they were not to challenge his wishes. Where would his estate be today?

Perhaps Mr. Brown did all of these things and yet no one in the family listened. But based on the nature of the lawsuits, it appears as though family members were surprised – and unhappy with – Mr. Brown’s wishes. The only safe assumption one can take from all of this, it seems, is that Mr. Brown wouldn’t have wanted it this way.

Talking to Your Family About Financial and Estate Planning  

While we cannot know all the details, Mr. Brown’s situation offers a critical lesson (and reminder) about estate planning: even a well-crafted will and estate plan can run into problems if the family is not fully aware of the details.

Talking to your family about the estate plan is challenging for a number of reasons. When is the right time? What if some family members are left out? How will the family react if you decide to give a portion of the estate to charity? What if talking about the will now leads to family disagreements and resentment?

The uncomfortable nature of many of these factors is often what leads people to delay or outright avoid talking to their family about money and the estate plan. But as Mr. Brown’s and so many other cases demonstrate, failing to have thorough, candid, and frequent discussions with your family members about your estate plan can ultimately create a greater cost in the long-run.

So, when is the right time to have the financial and estate planning conversation?

Generally speaking, the answer is early and often. Teaching financial literacy to young children is a good place to start, and once there are adult children in the family it is important to go ahead and have conversations about the future, as difficult as they may be. In some cases, setting the expectation early for how the estate will be settled can also afford the children and family members the ability and time needed to plan accordingly.  

The key, once again, is having the conversation about finances early and often.

How Do You Initiate These Delicate Conversations?

Having weighty and important conversations about family finances does not come naturally to everyone, and that’s understandable. That’s where having a trusted financial advisor can be a big asset – someone you can bring-in to mediate sensitive conversations and explain the reasoning and technicalities behind the planning. An advisor will also likely be better equipped to deal with disputes or disagreements with the plan, since he or she will understand the intricacies for why a plan is set up a certain way.  

The first conversation with the family may be the most difficult. From there, it is important to continue having the conversation, particularly if the details change. The more the family openly and candidly discusses details about finances, the less chance there will be a big misunderstanding and legal dispute later. Open communication is paramount to the process.

If reading this article made you realize that you’re in need of initiating this conversation with your family, call a Wealth Manager at WrapManager today for guidance. We can be a sounding board for you as you explore options for organizing and having this conversation, and we can even work with you to mediate or participate in it as well. Call us today at 1-800-541-7774 or start a conversation over email at wealth@wrapmanager.com.




[1] Why Is James Brown’s Estate Still Unsettled? Ask the Lawyers – The New York Times

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