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How to Have Family Meetings About Finances (Video Interview)

How to have family meetings about finances

Here at Red Cape Revolution, we usually focus on our lives at work.

But why do we work anyway?

One of our main reasons (although not always the only one) is to have money to take care of our families, now and in the future after we’re gone.

But talking about money with your family can be hard.

So after hearing stories and struggles from my clients and friends, I asked my own financial planner how to have family meetings about finances.

In this video with Jeff Daniher of Ritter Daniher Financial Advisory, we talk candidly about how to have family meetings about finances—and what happens if you don’t.

Whether you’re an adult needing to talk to your aging parents, or a parent wanting to make sure your children (grown or not) have a sense of your financial future, you’ll find ideas here you can use.

(44 min, 27 sec. )

DOWNLOAD THE AUDIO ONLY HERE

Thanks to Jeff for helping us make a complex issue a lot more simple! And of course, if someone you love is struggling with this issue, please feel free to share this interview with them, too.

Find out more here about Ritter Daniher Financial Advisory, a fee-only financial planning firm.

Transcript (edited for readability):

Darcy:
Hey everybody– it’s Darcy Eikenberg here from Red Cape Revolution, and I am here with my friend, Jeff Daniher, who’s also my financial advisor at Ritter Daniher Financial Advisory in Cincinnati, Ohio.

We’ve been talking about families. I have a family I love, Jeff has a family he loves,  you have families that you love!  And this time of year –we’re recording this in the holidays–often we get the chance to get together with our families, and we talk about everything except some of the most important things, and that’s money and finances and our future.

So Jeff and I were talking about this topic and we thought it might be helpful just to talk a little bit about this. And I wanted to bring his expertise forward to think about how you might have family meeting about finances. So let me just say officially hello, Jeff, how are you today?

Jeff Daniher:
I’m great, Darcy. You’re right about holiday times. This is one of the things that I think people want to talk about, but they don’t know how to get started.

And I’ve done dozens of family meetings over the years as a financial advisor. A lot of people get nervous going into them. And everyone, without without fail, is really pleased to have done it.

The hard part is where do you get started. How do you raise the issue, whether you’re a parent or a child, and which way do you want to go, so I thought we’d spend some time today talking about that.

Darcy:
I think that’s great. You know, in the work that I do as a coach at Red Cape Revolution, I see people on both sides of the conversation.We talk about careers and work, but why do we have careers? Why do we work? Often it is to create that income, that wealth to support our family to support our goals.

And so, it’s this missing piece if we’re not having the honest conversations–just like I teach about having an honest conversation at work. How are you having it with your family about this sometimes very sensitive topic?

So so let’s just dive in.

Who should be thinking about having family meetings about finances right now?

Jeff:
You should be having it if it’s in the back of your mind. So it’s parents with children, usually their adult children or their children have approaching maturity.

Or they might be children with parents who they’re beginning to notice in the aging process that their parents aren’t quite as on top of things as they once were.

Both of those groups are great instigators for this type of conversation.

It really doesn’t have to do any more with the amount of wealth you have. It has to do more with the caring and concern.

We all are going to age –it just happens. But this conversation isn’t dictated by age.

It’s dictated by how open people are with “What’s my stuff?  What do I want if I can’t do this myself? Who is my team who’s here to help?”

And this conversations is especially important if you’re not local with your loved ones.

Darcy:
I thought it’s really interesting that you said it’s not about how much you have. I think there’s a stereotype out there that if I’m working and maybe putting away money in my 401k, but I don’t have massive wealth, that maybe I don’t need those kind of conversations–a family meeting about finances.

But I hear you saying that it’s a way to show that you care, to be able to be clear about what you want, or to be able to make sure that for the people you care about, you know what they want.

Jeff:
Yes, and that’s a big misnomer that these type of conversations are about money. That’s part of it, but what’s more important–what comes out is: “this is who I am, this is what I value.”

And if I’m not here–when I’m not here–because it’s not an if, it’s a when,–when I’m not here, or when I’m not able to do these things for myself, these are the steps that I want taken. Here’s the role that you may play.

And so this conversation can depend on how many children you have, whether you have a surviving spouse or not, whether you’re single. The key part is just to say that something could happen to me and  how, if this happens to me, what should I do.

Let me give you an example. We had a client and there was a very sudden death. The person who was the chief money manager was not able to handle their affairs.

Now, fortunately, we had met both of the people. So what we were able to do was talk to the other party and say, “You know, in the past, you’ve talked with us about one of your local children, and that they’re not necessarily the one who’s best able to help you on this. But you have another daughter who’s from out of state that’s coming in over the holidays. What if we were to sit down and talk with you and your husband and the other daughter as well that’s local?”

So everyone’s at the table. everyone hears things the same time the same way and has the chance to ask questions.

You know, Darcy, the game of telephone– how information gets passed along? And you think you’re clear communication, the real advantage of a family meeting with a professional advisor–and that can be your accountant, could be your attorney, could be your financial planner –is we’re trained to listen. And we’re trained to observe.

And if we see that someone’s not getting the, the message that they’re going down a different path, we can often bring that back so that misunderstandings don’t happen.

Darcy:
It’s very similar to some of the things that we do as a coach of being able to ask the question underneath the question because sometimes we hear things that are not being said. Folks who do what you do have enough experienced to know that the next natural question might be this or when you’re asking about one thing, it might mean something else.

You mentioned different professions that can help with a family meeting. All this kind of comes to fruition after we die. Why go through the awkwardness of talking about it with the family now?  What happens if I just say let somebody deal with it after I’m gone?

Jeff:
Okay. Well, that’s assuming that your death is relatively quick. The problem happens is if you have an extended illness, and you’re not able to handle your financial affairs, and that’s usually far more prevalent than the person who passes away in their sleep, but why wait?

One reason I would say don’t wait, is you probably are concerned about this, I’ll tell you that your family is concerned about it. They’re not bringing it up.

But it’s in the back of their mind, and that they love you. They want to be there to help you, and knowing who to talk to, in the event that you need assistance is critical and putting their minds at ease.

You mentioned people have fear, uncertainty and doubt, and you can mitigate all three of those things by having a very brief conversation of saying, “You know, if something happens to me, here are the people you can talk to. Here’s where I keep my records. And I’ve taken certain steps so that I’m providing for you.”

You don’t have to go into a lot of detail and say, “here’s my balance sheet. This is how much you’re going to get.” I think that’s a misunderstanding as well that some people have is that my kids are going to worry about how much money they’re going to get. And I’m sure there are people out there like that, I’ve never run into that.

What I run into is adult children who want their parents to spend all of their money on things that they need, if there’s anything left, that’s great. But I don’t know necessarily how you’re doing financially unless we’ve talked about it, because our society is so focused on the appearance of success.

You may have heard that the saying “big hat, big house, no cattle.” So you look like you’re very affluent, but we don’t know. And for that age person who is concerned that if I’m not able to do this, you don’t necessarily have to talk to your kids. But if you have an illness, or when you die, they’re going to want to know what’s going on. And it’s already going to be stressful enough if there’s a health challenge. So I think people could wait. But that’s not optimal in our perspective.

Darcy:
I often say that the antidote to fear is another four letter word, and that’s PLAN. (More here.) 

And having a plan, even though, you know, plans can change and things can shift and you know, people can get sick and economies can change, but at least having that comfort that there’s some kind of plan and I know what the next step would be.

You know, Mom, you’re okay or no, mama , you’ve got to watch your spending or whatever the thing is.

So let me ask you –as an adult child who’s maybe in the middle of their career or late career even, and you have an older parent, how do you start the conversation without it feeling like, the underlying question is, when are you going to when you’re going to kick it? And I’m going to get your money?:)

Like, how does it not feel like it’s a greedy conversation? You know, “how much am I going to get, mom, so I can I quit my job a few years early?”
Jeff:
Well, you mentioned in this scenario, that you’re a busy professional, so your parents are probably going to know that you’re very busy. And I’m assuming in this case, that you have regular communication with your parents. Because if you don’t have regular communication with your parents, it’s rather awkward to say “you know, Mom, if you get sick, what happens?”

So we’ll ee’ll set the stage here. And I find that telling a story is a good way to do it.

Clearly, you need a little bit of time because you don’t know where this is going to go. But it also involves seed planting. For example, this is how I would suggest it.

“You know, Mom and Dad, I recently had a circumstance that happened to a friend of mine, and you can’t believe how disruptive it was to that person’s life. They had a parent who was out of town or local, you know, [just put in whatever you feel is necessary for your own situation.] And the the parent had a heart attack and wow, you know, as we age, we get to have more and more people we know that have health challenges. If something happened to you, who should I talk to?”

Now if you already know that they have a financial advisor You could say if I call them, would they know who I was?

This brings me to mind of the important legal documents everybody should have. So even before you have this conversation, we have to make an assumption that the parent in this situation has done something about their circumstances and they have a will, a power of attorney, and advanced directives.

Sometimes there may be a trust in here, but the legal documents, statistically speaking, about half of us–half of Americans do not have their legal documents in place. We don’t want to face our mortality.  But the most difficult situations in my 30 year career have been where someone dies without a will.

The nice thing to remember about a will is you can change it. You were talking about plans earlier. People don’t plan to fail, they fail the plan.

So with this parent, assuming you’ve got your legal documents in place, you’ve thought about if I can’t do this, who should step in? And usually spouses have each other and then there’s an adult child, and if not, they may have a family friend or something like that.

Whoever you’ve named in your legal documents needs to know.  We’re not born with the knowledge of how to handle an estate. You want to let that child or that family member know that they’re named and they might say, “Oh, it’s not for me. I mean, why don’t you name my sibling with me?”

Or “Thanks, Mom and Dad, I appreciate it. You know, I hope it doesn’t happen soon. But then what are the next steps? ” Nowhere here and we talked about how much money am I going to get.

If you come at the conversation with the compassion and concern that you have, you can ask “How do I make sure that you’re getting the best care possible? Who can make the decisions?”

We hear a lot about HIPAA rules about how our medical practitioners are really hamstrung. Or their hands are tied about allowing people to make decisions unless the proper paperwork is there. Right. You don’t have to put yourself in that situation assuming you have the proper paperwork, and the people who are there to help you know there to help you in this circumstance.

So I just kind of would suggest, in a non stressful way, when you have a few minutes, perhaps over a cup of coffee saying, you know, “this happened to a friend of mine, I’d really like to avoid some of their challenges. What have you done mom and dad?”

And that will lead you to the situation of saying, “Oh, you haven’t done anything? Hmm. Well, what are your thoughts? ”

And if they shut down, that’s okay. Back off. But say, you know, “I’d love for you to think about this. And, you know, it is an inevitability. Think about what what your concerns are and why you may not have done it yet. Can I be of assistance? Can I help?”

You’re not going to change the person who goes you know, “no, not gonna deal with it.” We see them from time to time, but most people will either say yes, I’ve got some documents, or I have documents I need to revise them, which often happens, or I really should get to this.

Darcy:

That reminded me of the positioning that was helpful to us at even though my family and especially my father who’s now passed was not resistant to the conversation at all. But I positioned it as something he could do to help me. I didn’t want him to feel like it was something I wanted from him or make him feel like you know he wasn’t doing a good job or missed something, especially as his health was declining.

And so that letting somebody else you know how they can be helpful to you. I always say you only control three things, everything you say everything you do ,and everything you think. So you can say something and start taking control of it as the adult child.

So I’m interested in the flip side, and you also work withsomeone who’s retired or been retired for a little while, and then they have an adult working professional child, maybe with children, and maybe they have families and they could be spread out all over the world today. So, so how does it work from that side?

Jeff:
Great question. We prefer in person meetings, but what happens if someone can’t be there. But the concern that busy adult children may have is, how am I going to get all this done, especially those with a career and with children.

One value that we see consistently throughout all families is the value of education. Whether or not tuition is fully paid for, or just assisted –the value of a college degree of higher education is really significant. And it’s something that is intergenerational.

And one method of encouraging a family discussion about this is to have parents invite their children in to talk with them about what they are doing for education, what their values are and how they might be able to help if the adult child has has kids, you know, they’re going toward, you know, college. And of course, we know that the costs of college today and the burden of student debt is huge right now.
I’m going to use a hypothetical example. So you’ve got parents and they have an adult child who’s married with two kids of grade school and early high school age. Not only do you have to, as that child, set money aside for your own retirement, you’re worried about funding college and unless that person is really well off, it’s difficult to hit all of those goals in this circumstance, and this is what we see with our clients.

The parents have become financially successful. And assuming that they have the ability, one of the ways that they can help their children is by helping potential grandchildren with college tuition costs. And you need a discussion. So there is a retired person help skipping the generation but that is actually helping the child because then the child doesn’t have to stress about how am I going to afford to pay this and how am I going to afford to pay that?

You can have the discussion:  “What are you thinking about as far as it comes to college for your children?” You can have compartmentalised family discussions. It doesn’t have to be this whole buffet of this is my will. And this is my balance sheet and this is my you know, I think you should use my investment advisor. It’s really can be compartmentalised. And then you can see how your children react to this.

You mentioned earlier Darcy, the misunderstanding often that children are just sitting around waiting for their parents to die so they can get the money. But parents are predominately concerned about not being a burden to their children. And so the unspoken part is not well, how much is are my kids going to get, but do I have enough to take care of me or me and my spouse so that I don’t have to move into my children’s basement?

Let your children know, this is what we’ve done. This is our intention. I’ve had conversations with my parents, Mom and Dad, I’m far away. If one of you has a health challenge, do you know who to call who can be somebody who can come in and provide some care while you’re recovering? It’s it’s simply for us.

In the financial community, this becomes almost second nature, but practicing on my own folks to say, what are your goals and your intentions? Do my siblings now? Have you talked with them as well? In the event that you needed full care? Where would you want to be?

I have a client who spends half a year in Europe and half a year in Florida. She and I have had that discussion. And then I said, now we need to let your kids know. Because I betcha in the back of their mind, they have this anxiety that if something happens to Mom, what happens? You know, she’s half a continent away, right?

Darcy:

So, people age longer and can be strong and healthy and on their own and more and want desperately to be independent and want to stand on their own. Then you know, even thinking about somebody else having to take care of me or do something for me or that something could happen is an uncomfortable feeling. But so as a financial professional, what’s the role where someone can engage their financial professional or if they don’t have somebody that they’re working with? Like, how do you have a third party in this very, I would call it almost an intimate conversation.

Jeff:
It is perhaps one of the most intimate conversations –you are absolutely right. Again, we have to start with the person who’s at least thought through what they would like to have happen. So we assume for this discussion, because there’s a wide range, there’s a lot of older adults who haven’t done anything.

And if you’re watching this, I have a challenge for you. Don’t let a month go by without making that call to an attorney. And you can call your local bar association. If you need referrals to get your legal documents in place. first hand experience I had a family member who passed away without their documents. That’s a mess. You don’t want to do that to the survivors.

Darcy:
Yes, when my father passed, and we were organized, and it still was a lot of work, and you know, and it’s and I can’t even imagine how much you know, work and stress if we weren’t.

Jeff:
When you’re dealing with grief, and then you’re having to figure out where’s their stuff and how do we do this and that everyone is afraid of probate. Well, the probate process has a structure for this, depending on your local community, but it’s not easy.

And you just don’t need to put that extra burden on that. So you have your documents, and you don’t have a financial advisor, you don’t have an attorney or you do your own taxes. You don’t have a regular attorney. How do you prompt a conversation with this?

Well, you can do it yourself. You don’t necessarily need that third person. Just take a couple of notes and say, you know, if I die when I use me when I die, here’s what I’ve done.

And you can also start by writing a letter, take, write an email, write a letter, you don’t have to send it, but write it as if you weren’t here. What do you want your children to know? Now, I will tell you, they would much rather hear it from you in person, because some of the message that you’re saying they’re going oh, I, I took it the wrong way. Right. Okay. It’s human nature.

So once you’ve got that letter written, then do you know where this stuff is? We joke in our industry, there’s this big binder somewhere. Well, now it’s usually digital. Right?

That brings me to the issue of where are your passwords? Okay? Because if you have a digital life and you’re getting everything online, how do people get into this? That’s something else you need to put in that letter.

. So if you feel you need somebody to help you with this, I would go to one of your friends and you can do it for them. And they can do it for you with the kids. So you can plan and you can talk about it. It doesn’t have to involve balances. You don’t need to disclose how much money you have. You certainly may. But if there are life insurance policies, if there are pensions, if there is a long term care contract, your children aren’t going to know where this is. unless you tell them so,

Darcy:
One of the big resistance points is that we feel like we’re talking about money, and it feels like sort of crass and greedy because it’s money after you die, or you’re just saying is just get the pieces in place of where to go next without anything attached to it without a and here’s the 300, you know, thousand dollar life insurance or but it’s just like, here’s, here’s the phone number, here’s the life insurance company for the policy and, you know, and have it, have it in one place.

If you’re feeling like it’s time for the conversation, you can control sharing your stuff with your loved one. And hopefully also maybe then that creates a reciprocal conversation is also what I’m hearing is to let someone know where your stuff is because things could happen. You know, it’s not necessarily unfortunately that you know, the parent that would pass first.

Jeff:
This is all about putting people’s minds at ease. We have enough to worry about. It’s not difficult for us to find things us people in general to find things to be concerned about –just turn on the nightly news.

This is one area that we can do something about that. Let me think I might have a reference here. This is a book. And I don’t get anything for suggesting the book, but it is from an organization called Nolo. Now, this is a group that says you don’t need attorneys. We strongly recommend that you use an attorney because they’re experts at this.

This book says get it together, organize your records so your family won’t have to. We give this to our clients so that they can go through the process and there’s charts and pages and it walks you through all different aspects. It’s fairly comprehensive.

Why I suggest people use professionals is the professionals going to know when the situation is an ordinary. And that’s the situation that you can cause extra problems by believing it’s a win, it’s actually q but it’s a great starts, and I’m sure it’s n o l o.com nola.com. has information about it. But I also said check with your bar association. If you need an attorney, you certainly need these things, but it helps you.
There are many good websites as well that can help you gather up your information. If you have an accountant, if you have someone who helps you with your taxes, you have a personal financial advisor, lean on them. We’ve done dozens of these family meetings.

Do we discuss numbers? Really? Yeah, the numbers aren’t the necessary part. Because as I indicated, children want their parents to be taken care of what they want to know is our mom and dad. Okay. If mom and dad have a health challenge, where do we go? We can deal with this stuff. And the money will be left over as it is.

Darcy:
So that I think that’s one of my big takeaways from this conversation because they realizing you can have the conversation without thinking about money, by focusing just on the “Is there a plan? Do we have peace of mind about the plan? rather than specific amounts.

I’m sure there’s some cases where there, there’s concern about does the parent have enough to live on? Am I going to have to be taking care of them too, we certainly are seeing the trend of the sandwich generation and it hits women disproportionately. So which also another incentive to have the conversation now, rather than 5, 10, 15 years from now.  If you’rea working mom or working single woman, that you’re not trying to balance your own career and taking care of being the primary caregiver for for your parents.

Jeff:
My wife has been there, done that with both of her parents and her andyou also may have a friend, your peers who done this, ask them what worked well, and what didn’t. What do you wish you had done differently? What do you wish you had known?

Same way, if you’re a child with aging parents, you can talk to your peers and say, “Have any of you spoken with your parents about this issue?” One of the things you’ll find is as people are towards the end of their life, especially those who might currently be in their 80s or 90s now, there can be a fear that my children won’t love me if they have access to my money. Okay. And, and we’re not seeing as much of this today as we used to it was a generational issue. But money is the last thing that parents can control.

But by having this conversation that doesn’t deal with money that deals with aging in place, caregiving Who are your doctors? What medicines are you on? And then once you have that conversation, it’s not a one and done.

I do suggest that if possible, this not be done at the holidays, okay? Now that may be the only time when people are in place because there’s already enough stuff going on. But specify a separate time have it be a focus, where it’s the emphasis and there’s not a lot of distractions that if you can do this conversation, maybe it’s may every year, you know, you have just a check in that that would be something that would be ideal.

We see with our clients where we’ve had family meetings, that we will have one, and then we’ll have an update– either when there’s a life change on the child or the parents, or it’s been a couple of years.

Darcy:
If people are working with a financial planner like you, what’s the ask? I mean, do they just say to you, can you talk to my family? know sometimes when we have a professional that we’re working with, we’re hesitant about going over the scope of what they do.

Jeff:
We are fee-only planners and fiduciaries, which is we’re designed to put our clients interests first. So it depends on your relationship with your financial advisor. If they’re just doing your mutual funds or you use an 800 number, they’re probably not going to be in a position to do that.

But let’s say that you do have a financial advocate, and they haven’t offered to you the chance of doing a family meeting. simply say, “You know, I’d like to make sure you are aware of my children. In the event that something happens to me, I want to be proactive so you know who to talk to.”

And we have to be as financial professionals, cognizant of confidentiality. So we like it when our clients will say to us, you have permission to speak with these people, or in the event that something’s happening. Here’s where you need to go because not every child is capable of handling this type of information. You know, the parents are going to be the best ones to know that. We like to hear this as well because it’s one more way that we’re able to provide peace of mind to our clients, because that’s really what the business we’re in.

Darcy:
Peace of mind is so critical today, knowing that you have taken the initiative of what you can control, no matter what side of the coin that you’re on, but also to be able to translate it that’s it not really about money–it’s really about care and compassion.

And, and taking care of yourself to that, you know, you want to know because if, you know, ultimately, you want to know that the people you know who are left, don’t have extra stress or that you don’t have extra stress on yourself, because you haven’t asked the questions and everybody’s avoiding that topic.

And I think it’s good to know that, you know, if you have a financial advisor, someone who is a trusted professional, that there’s the confidentiality. It’s similar to how I work.–I talk about my coaching clients to anybody else. But if they want to bring other people and but the client has to be in control and have the permission when they make those introductions to you and allow you to connect–thenyou get to have a much richer conversation.

Jeff:
Well, you know, I indicated it’s not great to necessarily have the conversation at the holidays, but it is a great gift to give your family to say, I would like to have this conversation with you. When would it be a good time for us to do this?

Darcy:
As you think about, people will be watching this at all different times of the year but we’re recording this at the end of 2019. We’re going into 2020.

And you know, think even about a year from now, you know, if I broke it down into just little things to start organizing in a, in a Dropbox or you know, in a last pass for all my passwords. To be able to even over the course of a year to move that forward and feel that much more progress on it– I just think about how much stress that that can kind of relieve .

Jeff:

We all start slow. So if you don’t have legal documents, have that be a goal, because something will happen to you and they’re not that expensive and if you can’t afford an attorney, there are online things that are better than nothing,.

But put in your last will and testament, basically that says, Who can handle your affairs? And where does your stuff go? There’s a power of attorney that if you can’t make decisions, who can make them for you, and that can be financial and medical. So who can do talk to my doctors or who can handle my bank accounts?

And then that there’s also that instruction document and each state will have their own, but we call them Advanced Directives or a living will that says, if you’re in a permanently unconscious state, what do you want to have that that your medical practitioners do for you?

If you already have your legal documents done, the next step would be where’s all my stuff? What what’s important, you know, I have a collection of this or that your kids need to know. And then if you’ve got your stuff organized, Then you can initiate and say, you know, talk to your loved ones, either to your parents, or your children. Just begin the conversation and say, What would you like to know? Or I would like to know about your affair so that when something happens, we can minimize the complication and the additional stress so we can deal with what’s important at that time.

Darcy:
This has been really helpful–it’s a topic that comes across your desk and across mine as as people are trying to manage their careers and think about how they also want their life and the life with their parents or their children.

And it can be very complex, but I really appreciate you taking some time broken it down, try to make it simpler. And so Jeff, where can people find out more about you and the work your group does?

Jeff:
Well you can find us at www.RitterDaniher.com. We have clients all over the country, so it’s not local to the Ohio area.

If you want to find a local fee only financial advisor, there’s an organization that we’re members of and are big supporters of. It’s the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, NAPFA.org. And they have a “find an advisor” page, and those are people who are fee only. Not everyone is comprehensive. Some will have specialties but that’s a good place to say, you know, I’m really looking for someone to help me with my affairs.

This is a complicated topic, but I think to summarize what you said, you can control what you think and what you say and what you do, so why not give the gift to those around you? We have had as a societal issue the hesitancy in talking about this. You can break that taboo and show your loved ones how much you care about them by helping them be able to help you.

Darcy:
Yes, you can do it. I know we’ve done it, you know, you’ve done it. And I really appreciate the thoughts and advice here today, and thanks again, Jeff Daniher, Ritter Daniher Financial Advisory, who are my financial advisors and my family’s. I appreciate your time and thanks for everybody for watching.

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