Most anyone with access to television during the last 47 years is likely familiar with The Brady Bunch - a blended family of what seemed to be some of the happiest darn people in the world who always worked through their family issues by the end of an episode.
[Insert record scratch sound here…] The reality is, most every family has a fault-line – that doesn’t mean it’s broken, but it’s important to keep in mind when contemplating sensitive conversations about money and assets, and ultimately the distribution of those assets. Money doesn’t typically cause problems, but it can surely illuminate them. Family issues (spoken or unspoken) can manifest themselves in many ways and go on for years or only surface after financial concerns are triggered by major life events like death, disability or divorce.
Although there are certain common threads to consider in business, legacy, and estate planning, each family situation is different. First, think about your short- and long-term goals and objectives as the owner of those illiquid assets.
For example, if you are a business owner with partners:
Would your partners and your family work well together as partners?
Would that be in the best interest of the company?
Are there people who you want, or who you don’t want, to play a role in the company?
Or, if you own real estate interests:
Does anyone in your family have an interest in assuming responsibility of the property?
Do they share the same interests as you in how it will be used?
If you don’t know the answer to those questions now and aren’t satisfied that you’ve done everything possible to ensure your goals and objectives are met, you should think about whether, and ideally how, to have a conversation with those who may want, or who may aspire themselves, to be the steward of assets after you no longer play that role.
Intergenerational conversations about business succession, charitable goals, etc. can sometimes be awkward. Once you feel confident of your short- and long-term objectives related to certain assets, consider who in your network might be able to help with those conversations, especially if you feel it’s something you don’t want to do on your own or you need coaching on how best to talk about it. This person could be a disinterested family member that you trust, a friend, your attorney/CPA, or an advisor.
The next step is to lead a “discovery discussion” with those who will be involved with your special assets after you to learn what they care about and how that will, or will not, match with your own goals and objectives. Listen with an open mind, recognizing that your natural immediate reaction might be disappointment if you learn that your children aren’t really interested in taking that oh-so-relaxing six-hour drive to the farm on a periodic basis to keep it running. But, try to contain that disappointment to keep the conversation moving more effectively. Use what you’ve learned through those conversations and from your adviser to develop and implement a plan on how to most likely achieve the needs, goals and objectives of all involved (to the extent possible), either during life or at death. This might mean rethinking your own short- or long-term goals as well.
So, as you think ahead to the end of your “The Brady Bunch episode of life” and beyond, it is important to recognize your goals and objectives, as well as the goals and objectives of those you care about, to be able to talk openly and to take action as necessary to ensure your goals are met in a way that achieves peace of mind for all involved. This planning will make difficult life transitions much smoother and ensure that the “things” you so much care about (people and assets) are taken care of when you’re no longer around.
We find that when clients are very intentional about developing and communicating strategies for managing their illiquid assets that the total return (financial and emotional) on that investment is even higher than the best strategies for picking stocks and bonds.