Home for the holidays …

Kristi Ellington

This time of year, as family members gather for the holidays, is a great opportunity to hold an annual family meeting.
Family meetings are something we firmly believe in, second only to getting your affairs in order. Once you have things in order, it is of much importance to communicate these aspects of your lives to your loved ones, while you are able.
The primary goal of a family meeting is to protect and preserve your family; the way to accomplish this is through honest, open, and direct communication. The following are ideas to consider for your agenda:
• Will spouses and children have enough money if a financial provider dies unexpectedly?
• What happens if a family member is unable to care for themselves? Is someone knowledgeable about how to take over? This could range from housekeeping to bill paying to managing medications. Does anyone have knowledge of important passwords or PINs?
• Are adequate funding methods in place to provide for children’s education?
• Are all adult family members financially independent; and if not, what can be done to change that?
• Are adult family members providing care for parents (financial or other); if so, how can other members help out?
• Are there charitable goals that the family wants to address together?
• Are legal documents in place, for example, wills and trusts?
• Are health care directives in place? Does everyone involved know that they are involved and where the health care directive documents are? Is a list of medical professionals, special health needs, and medications available? Are their any written records of family health history?
• Are there any safes, safe deposit boxes or storage units? If so, does anyone know the combination or have access to the key?
• Do any family members have special concerns or problems that could be addressed or supported, financial or non-financial, in the safety of the family unit?
• Have future inheritances been discussed? It is much smarter to have this conversation now, especially if there is an unequal split, rather than have beneficiaries confused and upset later; or worse, having beneficiary relationships among themselves jeopardized and/or forever ended.
• Have final arrangements been made, i.e. burial or cremation? Have final wishes been communicated? Do any family members carry donor cards?
• Have there been any significant changes since the last meeting; health conditions, birth, marriage, divorce, death or sale of the home or business?
Clearly the list could go on, but you get the idea. These are important subjects and conversations to have with your loved ones. While not particularly popular and sometimes downright uncomfortable, they are important.
In prior columns, I have strongly encouraged readers to get their affairs in order; as I mentioned earlier, our office firmly believes in this. We have produced a checklist that you may find helpful when preparing for your family meeting; please feel free to contact us for a copy.
Regular family meetings can promote family harmony by providing a safe time and place for making important decisions; I hope you’ll take advantage of this opportunity for self-directed enrichment. Once you have held your first family meeting, plan on making it an annual event. The first time may take a little more effort and a lot more dialogue, but going forward it becomes more of an annual update – not unlike an annual trip to the dentist or a yearly meeting with your tax advisor.
It may be that you have a “difficult” family member; this is better addressed in advance of the meeting to best determine how to include, or not include them.
Depending upon your family’s circumstances, it may be of value to include your financial advisor, your tax advisor and/or your attorney in these meetings. Including your team of professionals provides the benefit of having neutral and knowledgeable, up-to-date advisors on hand to address any technical questions, as well as making appropriate introductions before calamity strikes. It may be helpful to hold the meeting in an advisor’s office or other neutral location. Following the meeting, schedule some time to break bread together, enjoy each other’s company and just plain feel good about what you have just accomplished.
So, I encourage you! Somewhere, between the festivities and good cheer, between the good food and good drink, see if you can set aside some time to round up the clan and discuss these important topics. Try to include your professional advisors, wherever possible, and as you gather ’round the table, take time to ensure you are all on the same side of the table.
Good health, good planning and good communication will free up energies to more fully enjoy life. Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous and healthy new year!
Kristi Ellington is a registered representative with and securities and advisory services offered through LPL financial, a registered investment advisor. Member FINRA/SIPC.

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