It’s Time to Call a Family Meeting!

February 06, 2015

Over a year ago I was in Utah visiting my parents. They are both doing well, but not getting any younger. I can’t say enough about them and the wonderful example they have been to me. Their example of unselfish love, enduring faith and never ending diligence has been a strength in my life. For this I am forever grateful.
I see them often, but on this particular visit I found myself at their home when both of my brothers were also present. Living in different states and being so busy, the three of us are rarely at my parent’s home at the same time. Frankly, I think BYU must have been playing an important football game that weekend which brought us all too happy valley to root for the Cougars!

Recognizing a rare opportunity, my Dad told my brothers and I that he wanted to speak to us collectively for a family meeting in his study. I remember with raised eyebrows looking at each other wondering what this meeting was all about.

That afternoon my Dad called the meeting to order. Having a sense for his own mortality, my Dad wanted to communicate to his sons some important estate planning information. As the meeting progressed, I found it almost surreal, as I have instructed hundreds of clients regarding the importance of communicating with their children and loved ones the vast range of end of life issues. Suddenly, I was in the midst of this conversation in my own family.

My dad said, “You see that closet right there?” pointing to a closet in his home office. “On the top shelf you will see several binders. In those binders is our living trust, will and all of our important papers including legal documents, family histories, personal journals, financial and account statements, healthcare and financial power of attorney documents, etc.” He then took each binder down from the shelf and explained its contents and importance. It was clear my Dad had thought through this process and had planned to have this conversation with us for some time.

As I scanned the room, I could tell the conversation was difficult for one of my brothers. It’s hard to talk about the eventual passing of a loved one and the particulars and decisions that might surround such an event. Unfortunately, many of us put off this conversation due to such perceived discomfort, but believe me this only serves to compound the problem later.

A few months ago an elderly client of mine had a fall. This fall put her in a nursing facility. Along with the resulting physical challenges she suffered from some memory issues as well. Having never married and thereby having no children, I got a call from a loving family member who found my name amongst some important financial documents. He solicited my assistance to address a variety of important decisions with respect to her care and the positioning and utilization of various assets.

A couple days later we struggled to locate a range of important financial documents and papers in her home without her assistance. Unfortunately, she had not communicated with extended family members the way my father had called a family meeting many months before. There was little planning and thought about the “what if’s” of life. Let’s face it no one knows when he or she will pass or when one might have a life altering illness, accident or fall that creates a physical or cognitive impairment.

With this dear client I suddenly was faced with the absolute opposite of preparedness and prudent planning. As a case study, this situation posed a whole range of problems. One of the challenges that we faced almost immediately was that we could not access any of her online accounts.

The family member was the power of attorney, but he did not have current account numbers, user id’s or passwords. Monies needed to be provided for care, but we were not able access funds timely to pay the appropriate parties.

Think for a moment. In our world of increasing technology how many user id’s and passwords do you have? It’s a long list! Over the years, many friends have confessed the overwhelming need to record this information in one place just for their own sanity. There are a variety of best practices for this, but for this writing simply consider the problem of a loved one needing to care for you, but being hampered by not having the appropriate legal documents, access codes, web addresses or user id’s to do so.

It’s time to call a family meeting! Discuss with your loved ones the pertinent information necessary to handle the “what if’s” in your life. Get your house in order with respect to estate planning. There are a variety of issues that need to be addressed. Call me if you need assistance! Create an increased measure of financial peace for you and for your loved ones by having this planning conversation with them. Yesterday is in the record books, but the future is a promissory note. Don’t delay!