This past month, Cathy and I celebrated 30 years of marriage. Over the years, we have gathered the family together for a specific purpose but in October, we had a meeting that focused on inheritance. This idea came from a book by Thomas Deans called Willing Wisdom, where he suggested a family should have this type of meeting every year. I saw this intentional time as an opportunity to pass wisdom to my heirs before the time of any type of wealth transfer.
It felt a little awkward at first and I figured that my kids would just see this as another of Dad’s crazy ideas. I have heard it said it is inevitable that there will be a family meeting where your financial affairs are discussed. However, it is up to you whether you will be alive to attend. I have determined to be there; the discussion time is valuable and the conversation will deepen if this happens yearly.
To begin, everyone was asked to share a word to describe our family and then an example of why that word was chosen. The answers received are a testament of our family dynamic: fun-loving, unique (in family discussions), accepting (it is ok if we disagree), supportive (of each other), in tune (connected to each other) and confident. Hearing these words was encouraging and a result of our investing in the lives of our children. It was like a reward for 30 years of marriage but we are not done yet. We must continue the family communication in order to finish well what we have started.
Keith Costello, president and CEO of the Canadian Institute of Financial Planning (CIFP) recently wrote about the great wealth transfer. He stated, “Baby boomers will inherit $750 billion over the next several years in the largest-ever transfer of wealth in Canada, estimates a recent report from Toronto-based Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). Specifically, the report suggests that 2.5 million Canadians over the age of 75 have a total net worth of $900 billion or more — and the beneficiaries of this wealth will be Canadians aged between 50 and 75 years old.”
The most common approach for wealth transfer is to divide the inheritance equally among heirs but the challenge is to also ensure an appropriate distribution of wisdom to equip our heirs to properly manage this wealth. I recently spoke to some friends about my children having grown and matured. With sarcasm, I stated, “They grew up to have their own opinions that are not the same as mine.” The reality about our children is they will likely have different priorities than their parents, which is the reason family meetings are so important. Finishing well involves successful transfer of wisdom before any wealth transfer.
As a steward of all that has been entrusted to me, I feel responsible to prepare the next stewards to manage anything I may leave them. An annual family meeting where probing questions are posed can help the next generation connect with the values and plans that guide financial decisions.
Some examples of questions that will create discussion and reveal values are:
-What are your dreams? How would receiving an inheritance impact your dreams?
-What did you learn from your parents about money and generosity?
-How should each child be treated: equally or uniquely?