Leaders are used to addressing life’s challenges.
This is often done with one eye in the present and one on possible future repercussions, helping others to constantly make decisions, while also making them for themselves.
I’ve talked before about the many life transitions we all go through and how we help clients prepare for and successfully navigate them.
This week, we look at the hardest of them all, yet the one most often left to chance.
Our own death.
In a recent blog we discussed the process for deciding whether or not to pass on a family estate.
Because most our clients want help to not only grow and preserve their wealth...
But to distribute it to their families too.
The latter part of financial planning is particularly important as family wealth can drastically decline across generations.
But the final transition we all inevitably face in life, is by far the most difficult for any of my clients (indeed any of us) to address with any kind of openness.
And so, we put it off or end up excluding the ones it will affect the most.
So, I want to share a story.
This story comes from a planner friend of mine, and a client he worked with for many years.
He liked to say, when talking about this subject, that it's best to give with a warm hand rather than a cold one.
This story demonstrates just that.
How one leader gave this most difficult of life’s transitions the thought and attention it deserves, while involving those most important to him.
Peter is an example of someone who got his end-of-life planning right...
He wanted it to be intentional, involving as many family members as he could and being utterly transparent from the get-go.
Peter involved his nieces and nephews, their spouses, his stepson, his deceased daughter’s husband, and his wife, grandchildren, and even his ex-wife.
A deep network of family relationships and a stronger, more connected family, prepared for the patriarch’s death.
Perhaps this is the best legacy there is?
It all begins with a conversation
At the age of 87, Peter asked to speak to two of his nephews.
The sons of his long-deceased sisters.
The purpose of the meeting was to begin an end-of-life discussion.
He wanted to talk about his concerns: contingencies for his end of life; the location of his assets and valuables; and the details for his funeral.
Peter was a planner by nature…
But he was also a worrier.
He had built a successful business, made wise investments, and was rewarded with a more than comfortable living during his working life and retirement.
He worried about financial security for himself and everyone he loved…
And wanted his clan to be secure, as well as better off.
Family was his number-one priority.
It was at that first meeting that the nephews also learned that they were to be the executors of his estate.
Although he’d no natural children of his own, Peter did have a stepson in his late 40s.
Peter informed him of the executorship so that there would be no surprises or animosity after his death.
Beyond communicating financial and funeral arrangements, what conversations are important for you to have with your family before your passing?
An effective team
Peter’s 90th-birthday celebration was a 7-day visit to the South of France.
24 family members went along.
He used the trip to share his wishes and worries regarding his death with each of them.
They responded well, adding questions, and offering commitments.
Everyone felt a sense of purpose, cementing their connection not only to Peter, but to each other.
From then on, phone conversations became more regular, as did short family trips with Peter.
The many months of planning and open communication helped the family to better understand situations as they arose.
They understood each other’s points of view more, as well as their strengths and weaknesses.
Even the most stressful circumstances could be navigated.
A big change
Peter died approximately three years after that first meeting.
He had addressed this most daunting life event head on, supported by the people who meant the most to him.
His approach had given them time to learn to work together, to plan thoughtfully, and ultimately do right by him.
Peter had also mitigated the emotional shock waves that come from a death in the family.
What can you do to prepare your family for your death?
After all, life is made up of a series of events.
Births, deaths, marriages, children, work successes, and failures.
All represent positive and negative change…
Both of which can be disruptive to a family.
But consciously engaging is an opportunity to greatly increase the odds of a positive outcome.
As Peter knew, preparing for death is about the care and attention paid to the people who’ll live on.
That was his legacy.
It reminded me of a line from the film Black Panther,
“A man who has not prepared his children for his own death has failed as a father.”
The same goes for leaders.
How do you prepare for a good goodbye?
What advice would you like to give your family about what it takes to make a family “work”?
As fiduciaries, we're here to ensure your capital aligns to your goals and your values, as well as ensuring all of life’s transitions are handled with the care and attention they deserve.
If you’d like to discuss any of the topics raised above or have any comments, please do get in touch.