Resolutions: Argent Trust

By DAVID W. RUSSELL,

I have spent the last 35 years helping families plan for their future. Almost all of my clients have as one of their top financial goals to never be a burden on their children. So, we create plans such that their children will never have to write a check for their care. After years of doing it this way, I realized that I rarely involved the adult children in the difficult conversations that needed to be held about what happens when Mom or Dad aren’t as independent as they are now.

I began to request that clients over the age of 70 include one or more of their adult children in what I call the Who-Does-What-When Meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to pull back the curtain however much the parents want in order to answer the questions that have been swirling in their kids’ minds but they’ve not worked up the nerve to ask: “Do Mom and Dad have enough money for the remainder of their lives?” “Who is in charge if something happens to one or both of them?” “Where are they going to live if they need care?” It opens up tremendous communication opportunities between families that they may not have had in years.

Before the meeting, Mom and Dad establish the ground rules with me, and I remind the family that I am not a therapist but a financial professional who specializes in preparing families for age transitions. I also state emphatically that I am moderator and referee, that I get to call time out if things get too dicey, and that this is not a meeting to air family grievances. However, I do like to explore a little of the family dynamics because understanding those dynamics can actually help my clients make wise choices when it comes to putting their children in official capacities.

It’s also important to have an Agenda prepared beforehand. Because these meetings need a full day to cover so much ground and can also be emotionally and physically draining, I recommend having them in a retreat setting away from cellphones, the office, carpools, and other distractions. Even the word retreat suggests that it’s a place to chill, breathe, and relax. I use a rough outline of 4-8 sessions covering everything from family dynamics to estate planning and I include a lot of discussion exercises and even games to keep the interest high and the mood light.

The final session is an Action Plan developed from the gaps identified in prior sessions. The Action Plan assigns specific tasks and deadlines to the family and/or the advisor team to address any unfinished business and close any loose ends of the parents’ planning. Hopefully, by the end of the retreat, everyone has a greater understanding of one another, and the kids have a greater appreciation for their parents’ wishes both now and as they age.

Have you had your Who-Does-What-When Meeting? Perhaps this is the year to work on your 2020 vision for your family’s future.

David W. Russell, CFP®, CSA® is vice president and trust officer with Argent Trust in Ridgeland. He is a Certified Financial Planner and a Certified Senior Advisor. He is also author of the book, “What You Need to Know: The Adult Child’s Guide to Becoming a Financial Caregiver” and editor of Wealth and Honor (www.wealthandhonor.com) an online blog and educational resource for families facing the financial challenges of age transitions.

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