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Family Meetings: Setting Clients up for Estate Planning Success

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

Helping your clients plan and host a family meeting to discuss their estate planning goals ensure your clients estate planning is as smooth as possible.

A friendly looking advisor sits at their desk, interacting with a client.

Estate planning can be made easier by ensuring that your clients provide their families and beneficiaries with clear, effective, and open communication about their estate planning goals. Opening up this type of dialogue can often help to reduce family conflict and resentment after death. According to a national poll that was commissioned by the Advance Care Planning Canada initiative, 59% of Canadians are speaking to family about aging and end-of-life decisions; this is up from 36% in 2019. It’s clear people are increasingly open to having these conversations and estate planning professionals are in a unique position to help guide clients through them. Helping your clients plan and host family meetings to discuss their estate planning goals sets your clients and their loved ones (whether it’s chosen family or relatives) up for success. Facilitating family meetings also allow you to create connections with your clients’ families. Should something happen within the family, you have the existing relationships to provide support. You’re no longer a stranger, but instead a familiar face and trusted expert. Here is an overview of discussion topics for family meetings and some best practices to ensure your clients’ estate planning goes as smoothly as possible and to minimize family tension after death.

Prepare a family meeting plan with discussion topics

To prepare for the meeting, help your clients craft a meeting plan and agenda, including formal discussion topics. This will ensure that all the important estate planning details are covered. Some categories that you may want your clients to consider and discuss are funeral arrangements, asset distribution, and end-of-life healthcare.

A group of adults sit around the dinner table

Funeral arrangements

Funeral arrangements can be a heavy and sensitive topic for clients and their family members. That's why encouraging clients to have a conversation about their wishes is so important.

To help clients and their families alleviate some of the stress that comes with planning a funeral, ensure that they clearly communicate their preferences for things like burial plots, service plans, and other end-of-life concerns.

Lacy Robinson, CFSP from the National Funeral Directors Association has some helpful suggestions and reminders about how to talk about funeral arrangements with family. She reminds readers that for a lot of people, funeral planning is not a one-day affair and can take time to get right.

Asset distribution

Asset distribution is a common source of conflict when settling an estate. Having your clients communicate how their assets will be distributed beforehand can help to alleviate family tension after their passing. Topics such as spousal distribution, charitable giving, and gifts of sentimental value are important to cover. Gifts of sentimental value often carry significant value amongst family members; having your clients explain the reasons for their desired distribution can help to avoid family stress later on.

Additionally, if there are any unequal distributions in a will this can be a good time to explain the reasons for them. Without this information and opportunity to ask questions, beneficiaries can end up being deeply hurt.

End-of-life healthcare

End-of-life healthcare decisions can be a sensitive subject but it’s critical for your clients to discuss them with their family members before something happens. Knowing someone’s healthcare preferences (including long-term care preferences) before decisions need to be made can alleviate the burden placed on family members who may be called upon to make those decisions in times of crisis.

The overall goals are to ensure that your clients have peace of mind that their wishes will be carried out and that their families understand why those decisions have been made. This can help prevent familial conflict.

Download the free meeting template below to walk your clients through these conversations.

EstateBox Family Meeting Template
Download PDF • 102KB

Tips for preparing your clients for a family meeting

When helping clients prepare for a family meeting, try to create a structure that they can follow. Ensure your clients bring all relevant parties to the meeting and are prepared to answer questions that family members may have.

An intergenerational family sits around a table sharing a meal

You may want to advise your clients to consider setting a date that overlaps with another family event, especially if there’s family from out-of-town that need to attend. Having all relevant family members involved can help to ease some of the tension that could arise when the estate is being settled. If family members and/or beneficiaries are aware ahead of time of how the estate will be distributed, feelings of resentment can be avoided.

Additionally, you should work with your clients to determine who should participate in the family meeting. Ask your clients about spouses, in-laws, siblings, grandchildren, etc., and have them develop clear reasons for why some people are included or excluded. For example, you may have a client who wishes to exclude their childrens’ spouses in the meeting. Clearly identifying the reasons for doing so can help avoid family conflict during the meeting and afterwards.

Tips to help family meetings run smoothly

Discussions around financial planning, healthcare decisions, and funeral arrangements should all be approached with sensitivity.

Here are some tips to ensure the family meeting process runs as smoothly as possible:

  1. If applicable, your clients may want to inform their family ahead of time that they are healthy and are calling the meeting for planning purposes.

  2. Help your clients choose a family member or if desired, yourself as an advisor to act as their support system during the meeting.

  3. Advise your clients to choose a comfortable environment that allows for open communication and separation if necessary.

  4. Encourage your clients to involve family members in the meeting by having others share their feelings candidly.

By helping your clients plan for and participate in family meetings, you are ensuring that they are setting their families up for less stress later and facilitating a smoother transition after they pass away. Family meetings also provide you with the opportunity to create relationships with your clients’ families. This means that in times of crisis, you have the existing relationships to provide support. You’re no longer a stranger, but instead a familiar face and trusted expert. Create an account today and enjoy a 60-day free trial (no credit card or code required) to explore everything the EstateBox platform currently has to offer your clients.

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While we’re passionate about all things estate planning, we’re not professionals. We recommend speaking with your lawyer or financial advisor when putting together an estate plan.

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