Leaving Your Estate – The Talk

I’m not sure how many of you have recently had a misunderstanding with a family member, but I know most of you can remember an uncomfortable time of conflict with someone you love.  Conflict is a part of life.  None of us operates from pure motives all the time, and none of us is able to judge accurately how our words will come across to others.  Additionally, it is normal and right for different people to have different viewpoints and expectations.  So, conflict happens.

I’m not a psychologist, and I don’t pretend to know all that much about conflict resolution.  However, I do know this:  I would rather deal with conflict within my family due to my estate plan while I am alive and can talk to them, than have them experience hurt or pain over those issues after I am dead.  There is a blunt question in Splitting Heirs, my book with Jeremy White, which asks, “Who can better discuss your motivations, hopes, desires, and blessings with your family:  you, or your lawyer reading your will?” (p. 183)

But how?

The best way to communicate your estate plan is to have a family conference. You have to actually schedule time for these conversations. Practically, let me offer a few specific topics as you plan your family conference:

1) Frame the meeting as an opportunity for increased understanding through communication.  Tell your family why you are having the conference, and set the expectation that you are there to communicate (both speak and listen) with them.

2) Remember that you are there to pass on wisdom, as well as wealth.  What few things would you like for them to know about financial responsibilities, and how can this meeting allow you to share those topics?

3) Take time to specifically discuss the wealth transfer process for your family.  You don’t need to talk specific numbers, but it is helpful to talk about specific plans. (i.e. – have you given certain money to a specific charity?  Do you need to explain to children that there is either equal or unequal distribution among them?)

4) This is a chance for you to share about your current and future giving plans.  Stewardship is the use of God-given resources to accomplish God-given goals and objectives, so take the opportunity to discuss how God’s money is going toward the purposes that God has laid on your heart.

5) Finally, the most effective family conference involves a facilitator (such as a trusted financial advisor or attorney) who can answer big-picture questions and help to mediate in communication.

I hope that these five points will help you to frame your conference so that the communication is clear and accomplishes your purposes. 

Finally, today, I want to share a verse with you that is often helpful to me as I prepare for conversations at work or at home that could be difficult to navigate.  It is Philippians 4:8 (NIV): “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  As you approach your family conference, take time to make a list of what is true, what is noble, what is right, what is pure, what is lovely, what is admirable, what is excellent, and what is praiseworthy about your specific family and your specific situation.  Frame the discussion in terms of gratitude so that your heart is pointed in the right direction as you encounter the questions and expectations of those in your family. 

Spend a few moments meditating on the tremendous inheritance from our Heavenly Father.  What an amazingly wise and loving Father we have!  May we reflect His glory and grace in our dealings with our own families.