You may never have thought of it like this, but in some ways, a family is much like a team in sports. On a successful team, teammates have clear identifiable goals, a plan to achieve those goals, and all ideally are working and pulling in the same direction to that end.
Successful families are the same. This is true with regard to the values a family holds dear, and certainly is true with regard to family financial well-being.
If you watch team sports at all, you know that in the middle of the game, teams will “huddle up” to regroup, discuss strategy, diagram and call plays, and generally prepare for what is coming next on the field of play.
Just like with a team, holding a “family huddle” can be an important and extremely valuable point in the game of life in going for the win! While it may seem like it would be an uncomfortable thing to do, openly discussing important matters can actually bring your family closer together than in might otherwise be.
Advisors like me understand that keeping the lines of communication open and flowing are vital to the successful transfer of wealth between generations. Family members often have differing visions, ideas and values that can sometimes lead to breakdowns in trust and communication. But frank, open and honest family discussions about things such as financial and estate planning, philanthropy and other issues can help avert possible family discord and prevent many problems long before they take hold.
So when should you hold a family huddle?Simply put, as soon as you can. By having these meetings years before there is a real problem or need, you can lead the conversation.
Some families find that vacation time is a convenient time to huddle up, when family members are already present for an enjoyable time and may feel more relaxed. Others find that a holiday season, such as around Thanksgiving or Christmas, is a good time to hold a meeting.
A family huddle should typically include, at a minimum, your immediate family. In some cases, however, such as when a business or farm is co-owned by multiple branches on the same family tree, extended family should be included as well.
At the very least, you and, if married your spouse, should be on the same page. It is important that while you are gathered together, each family member be allowed to share his or her thoughts, feelings, achievements, hopes and dreams. Of course, in some cases, having one-on-one conversations with certain members before the family gathering may also help you create a helpful agenda and avoid the unexpected.
Finally, you may wonder just what you need to discuss. As with any team, topics talked about in the huddle are determined by where you are in the game and what is taking place. The big idea is to go into as much detail as you are comfortable with on matters that impact you and your family, such as planning for transition of wealth as smoothly as possible, wills and trusts, the location of important documents, how to find and access online digital assets, and even funeral arrangements and burial preferences.
One all too often overlooked discussion item are the major life events that have occurred among family members; things like births, deaths, marriages, divorces, creditor issues and the like. These things significantly affect legacy planning and need to be known and discussed openly.
What happens after the huddle is also vitally important. You should thoroughly review all that was discussed and learned, and then consider how any new information might impact your plans. I highly recommend also that you introduce your family to any professional advisors you have, such as your accountant, lawyer, and investment and insurance advisors.
In fact, some families even involve a trusted advisor such as their accountant in the huddle itself, like having a coach. After all, successful teams are generally led by great coaches!
And finally, be sure you plan to meet again and keep the conversation going. The process, like a game, is ongoing and frequent huddles are crucial. The family huddle is a great way to express love, compassion, comfort and understanding to those you care about. It is a great gift to all, including you!
Lane Keeter, CPA is Office Managing Partner of the Heber Springs Office of EGP, PLLC, CPAs & Consultants, and winner of the 2018 The Sun-Times Reader’s Choice Award for Best Accountant