The Family Summit

Though one of America’s wealthiest men, Joseph Kennedy often lectured his family about their extravagance.  One evening at dinner, having received a new batch of bills, the senior Kennedy unleashed a barrage of criticism, causing Ethel (Bobby Kennedy’s wife) to flee from the room.

Only after much soothing and cajoling from Bobby did she finally agree to return to the table. Father and son then confronted one another, and an ominous silence followed.  At last John, endeavoring to break the tension, shrugged his shoulders and turned to Bobby:  “We’ve found the solution,” he declared.  “Dad’s just go to go out and make more money!”

When many people think of estate planning, they think of minimizing taxes.  They also think that if they are not wealthy enough to potentially face estate taxes, then they do not need to have an estate plan.

At BWFA, we disagree.  We have found, and research supports us, that the number one benefit of a thoughtful estate plan is to maintain family harmony.  As one client put it, “I don’t want the kids to hate me when I am gone.”

BWFA does not want our clients’ kids to hate them, either.  Nor do we want our clients to hate their parents.

As a result, we have coordinated family summits for numerous clients so that (unlike the Kennedys) they can talk about those difficult issues.  We think of these family summits as investments in family harmony.

A family summit can be valuable at any point in the estate planning process.  Some families use it as a way to engage in a discussion while the senior members are developing their estate plan.

For other families, the family summit is held after an estate plan has been developed, and the senior members wish to explain their intentions to their heirs.

Depending on the family dynamic, you can share as much or little as you want, and the meeting can be as formal or informal as you like.  A BWFA advisor will be in attendance to explain the details, as appropriate (and with your permission).

Many families are uncomfortable talking about death and money issues.  Yet, we have seen that not talking about those issues can be even more painful in the long run.  In our experience, one of the major sources of heirs’ pain and guilt is not knowing their loved one’s wishes and intentions.

Sometimes, heirs become estranged due to disagreements over items that have little financial value but huge emotional value.  It’s heartbreaking to hear works like this: “I just wish I knew what Mom would have wanted for…” Getting the answers ‘right’ can have a greater lasting impact than financial decisions.

Elements of an Estate Plan

In addition to family summits, BWFA offers a full range of estate planning services.  We help clients create their estate plans and bring in attorneys to write the documents that accurately reflect their wishes.  We also support heirs through the process of transferring wealth with a minimum of delay, cost and confusion.

A Well-Crafted Estate Plan Includes the Following Estate Documents:

The Will – To determine who will make sure your assets pass according to your wishes (known as the ‘personal representative’).

The Trust – To make sure assets pass how and when you wish.

The Durable Power of Attorney – To determine who (the ‘agent’) can make financial decisions for you.

Advanced Medical Directives – To determine (the ‘agent’) who can make healthcare decisions for you and let your family and medical staff know about your wished for medical treatments and life-sustaining measures.

Letter of Instruction – To state, in plain English, how your estate is organized, important information about your estate, and any of your wishes that would be impractical to put in your will.


By Mark Stinson  |  CPA, CFP®, MBA