While most Americans are focused on turkey dinners and Black Friday sales, some financial advisers look to Thanksgiving as a good time for families to bond in an unlikely way: by talking about money.
The holiday spirit and together-time can make it easier for families to discuss important financial matters such as parents’ wills, how family money is managed, retirement plans, charity and eldercare issues, advisers say.
While most parents and adult children believe these discussions are important, few actually have them, according to a study conducted last spring by Fidelity Investments. Family members may avoid broaching these sensitive subjects for fear of offending each other.
That is where advisers can shine.
“When you help different generations communicate and cooperate on topics that may keep them up at night, it bonds them as a family,” says Doug Liptak, an Atlanta-based adviser who facilitates family meetings for his clients. It can also help the adviser gain the next generation’s trust.
Advisers can encourage their clients to call family meetings. They can also offer to facilitate those meetings or suggest useful tips to families that would rather meet privately.
Family meetings should not be held over the holiday table after everyone has had a few drinks, but at another convenient time.
“That may mean in the living room the next afternoon, over dinner at a fun restaurant, or at a ski lodge,” says Morristown, N.J.-based adviser Stewart Massey, who has vacationed with clients’ families to help them hold such mini-summits.
It is critical to have an agenda “and be as transparent as possible,” he says. Discussion points should be written out and distributed to family members a few weeks ahead to avoid surprises. Massey also suggests asking clients which topics are taboo.
Liptak likes to meet one-on-one with family members before the meeting. If you can get to know the personalities and viewpoints of each family member and make everyone feel included and understood, you will be more effective, he says.
“You might have two siblings who are terrible with or ambivalent about money, while the youngest is financially savvy, but you can’t give one person more say,” says Liptak.
It also helps to get everyone motivated if the adviser brings in the client’s children or other family members ahead of time to teach them about money management topics, like how to invest, says Karen Ramsey, founder of RamseyInvesting.com, a Web-based advisory service.
Sometimes the clients are the adult children who are afraid to ask how the parents are set up financially or where documents are, she says.
Ramsey says advisers can help by letting clients and their families know that a little discomfort may come with the territory. She will say, and encourages her clients to say: “There’s something we need to talk about and we’ll all be a little uncomfortable, but it’s okay.”
The adviser can kick off a family meeting by asking leading questions, such as “What one thing would you like to accomplish as a family in 2015?” says Liptak. Then the adviser can take notes and continue to facilitate the discussion by making sure everyone gets heard and pulling out prepared charts and data when necessary.
Massey suggests families build some fun around the meetings. His clients often schedule them around the holidays and in the summer, often tucked into a vacation or weekend retreat. It is a good practice to have them regularly, like board meetings, he says.
And if the family has never had a meeting before?
“Don’t start with the heavy stuff,” says Liptak. “It’s a good time to focus on giving and generosity, like charities the family can contribute to.
“You can collaborate on an agenda for later for the bigger issues.”