“Give me the gift of a listening heart.” ~ King Solomon
Question: Our family will be together for the holidays. I’d like to take advantage of this time to discuss a few financial matters. What advice can you provide to make this conversation as valuable and productive as possible?
Answer: Providing your family with the gift of communication is commendable. This is an opportunity to share financial philosophies, discuss planning strategies and listen to how others feel about monetary matters.
Keeping the lines of communication open and flowing with information is vital to the successful transfer of wealth between generations. Family members may have differing visions, ideas and values that can sometimes lead to breakdowns in trust and communication. You may or may not choose to disclose total net worth, account balances and other specific details but the willingness to promote honest and open discussion is a great place to start. Here are a few tips:
Who should be at the table? It depends on a number of factors and the choice is entirely yours. For some, it’s immediate family only; for others, extended family is included. You may want to have one-on-one conversations with certain members before the gang gathers and it may help you create a productive agenda and help to avoid surprises. At the very least, you and your spouse or partner should be on the same page.
What should you discuss? Topics will obviously vary and will depend on what’s most important for you to communicate. You only need to go into as much, or as little detail as you’re comfortable when disclosing specifics. Focus on matters that impact the smooth transition of wealth, including wills, location of important documents, even funeral and burial preferences. Identify and acknowledge any changes among family members (births, deaths, marriages, divorces, etc.) that can affect legacy planning. While you’re gathered together, encourage each family member to share their thoughts, feelings, achievements and hopes. This is the perfect time to express your financial philosophy and hear how others feel about monetary matters.
When should you have a family discussion? Don’t delay. Having these meetings long before there’s a need may avoid unnecessary confusion or even anguish in the future. There is a reason why I’m so insistent on having these conversations now; many years ago my father and I met for lunch on a Friday to outline the agenda for his family financial huddle to be held that Sunday. He unfortunately died that Friday night before he could express, let alone implement his wishes. Take advantage of this time of year to tackle this task while everyone is together and in a good frame of mind.
Where do you go from here? Review what was discussed and how any new information may impact your planning. Consider introducing your family to your professional advisors (accountants, lawyers, financial advisors, etc.). Most important, take action updating plans and documents as necessary. Finally, plan to meet again and keep the conversation going.
Another gift you can give yourself during the time before the New Year is to act on any year-end tax moves. Always consult your tax advisor to learn exactly which strategies may benefit you the most. Here’s a list of a few opportunities, but be sure to consult your tax professional.
Rebalance holdings if your financial plan and portfolio are off-kilter due to concentrated positions or appreciation. Rebalancing can potentially bring your asset allocation back in line with your objectives. Be aware that the process of rebalancing may carry tax consequences.
Harvest losses to offset potential capital gains taxes. If you’re selling securities to rebalance or take advantage of other opportunities consider offsetting gains with losses where appropriate.
Know your tax-bracket and thresholds being mindful of activity that may bump you into the next highest tax bracket. Consider timing income and deductions by accelerating or deferring income and deductions to reduce your tax liability.
Take RMDs if you’re 70½ and have an IRA, take your required minimum distributions to avoid any penalties.
Give generously to loved ones (the gift tax exclusion limit is $14,000 for 2015) or charitable institutions. Ask your financial advisor if you have highly appreciated assets that could be incorporated into your charitable-giving strategy.
Make a date with your team of advisors to coordinate a financial huddle to make the most of existing tax laws, identify opportunities, and implement any changes that may have come about as a result of your family huddle. Review your accounts, beneficiaries and estate planning documents to ensure they’re tax- efficient and accurate. Experts recommend doing so at least once a year or whenever you experience a major life change.
Addressing these important matters now is a brilliant way to approach the New Year, the sooner you can do it the better. You owe yourself, and those you love, the greater understanding, compassion and comfort that comes from a well- thought-out conversation. Openly discussing important matters during the holiday season can bring your family closer. Stay focused and plan accordingly.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer, but not necessarily those of Raymond James and Associates, and subject to change at any time. Information contained in this report was received from sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy is not guaranteed.
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This article provided by Darcie Guerin, CFP®, Vice President, Investments & Branch Manager of Raymond James & Associates, Inc. Member New York Stock Exchange/SIPC 606 Bald Eagle Dr. Suite 401, Marco Island, FL 34145. She may be reached at 239-389-1041, email email@example.com, website: www.raymondjames.com/Darcie.