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Financial planning tips

April 15, 2015

Have you had a family meeting about money?

Who would look after your kids if something happened to you? Can your mother still live independently? The time to discuss such issues is now!

Be it Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving or some other holiday, it’s always the right time of year to offer your family a gift no one outside the family could ever give: the wisdom and insights of a family financial meeting.

In our family, this kind of meeting has become an important tradition. Several generations gather to share something more substantial than a meal, more enduring than gifts, more meaningful than chitchat. The goal is to share our collective financial insights, experience and wisdom to help each of us achieve our goals.

We devote some quiet time, free of distractions, so that each person in the family can answer a simple question: “What’s your financial priority and what are you doing about it?”

I can’t promise that every moment of the family financial meeting will be fun, or that all topics will be happy ones, but I can almost guarantee you’ll find the experience rewarding. You’ll feel like a better member of a stronger family.

My family’s most recent financial meeting was a bit different from most, because our daughter Cristina and son-in-law Jason were in Scotland, not Canada. But with Skype, distance is no excuse for not giving a family financial meeting a try. The answers to the following questions will help you get started:

What does a family financial meeting look like?

It’s multiple generations of a family sharing their thinking about financial issues that are affecting members of the family. Face-to-face is ideal, but if that’s not possible, use Skype, phone, email/texts or social media.

What gets talked about?

It depends on the ages, life stages and situations of the members of your family. Topics might include:

  • With Grandma’s reduced ability to live independently, what are her options?
  • Will Mom or Dad’s workplace health benefits cover their daughter when she starts university?
  • Should the new parents talk to someone about life and health insurance?
  • Who has signed up to be an organ donor?
  • Does everybody have a current will?
  • Where are important papers/account info/passwords kept?
  • Who would look after the children, if their parent(s) died?
  • Do your kids or grandkids need to adjust their expectations as you approach retirement?
  • Do any family members have definite preferences regarding religious observances at their wedding or funeral?

At our most recent family meeting, Cristina wanted to understand her mother’s and my thinking about end-of-life healthcare. If my heart stopped, would I want to be resuscitated? If her mom was in a prolonged coma, what approach to treatment would she want? (Hey, my daughter is a bioethics specialist ... what can I say?) Thankfully, we started with lighter topics and then got into the heavier stuff.

Who should participate?

Ideally, all family members should attend.  If some are too young to participate, they can still pick up important life lessons by listening. If someone doesn’t want to talk about his or her own situation, that’s okay this isn’t an intervention.

Who shouldn’t participate?

Professionals, such as lawyers, doctors or financial planners (unless they happen to be family members). The pros can – and often should – be consulted later, because a verbal understanding shared in a family meeting won’t be recognized in court, in a hospital’s intensive care unit, or by a bank or investment company. To transfer the legal right to make important health or financial decisions from one person to another, you need formal, legal documents, such as a will, a power of attorney or a power of attorney for personal care (which may be called something else in your province).

What are the rules? 

No criticism is allowed. Offer only suggestions or ideas.

Can you combine the family meeting with a social gathering?

Yes and no. Yes, you could hold both on the same day. But no, a family meeting needs to be separate from a celebration. Set a time for the family meeting to start. Tell participants the meeting will be a serious conversation and you want everyone at their sharpest, so best hold it before the big meal with all the fixings.

At our house, family meetings have evolved. These days, they address the concerns of people ranging from ages 27 to 82. And though we don’t all live on the same continent, our family financial meetings help keep us on the same page.

Tips for planning your family financial meeting:

  • Let people know it’s not a party.
  • Get everyone settled with tea or coffee first, to avoid distractions.
  • Start with light conversation.
  • Allow the meeting to take as long as it needs.
  • It’s okay for some people to be quieter than others.
  • It’s up to you to decide whether to include in-laws.

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