When it comes to estate and succession planning, open and intentional communication plays a big role in the success of a transition.
Talking with our families about money, especially when it comes to wills and estates, is not easy. In truth, it is something most of us would rather avoid, even if family discussions are an important step to ensuring our future emotional and financial well-being.
Professional mediation is an immensely valuable resource that can help facilitate productive, honest discussions that ultimately help to retain the long-term health of the family and the individuals involved.
Mediators understand historical issues and resentments sometimes resurface during discussions about wills and estates and can threaten relationships. Mediators are also aware of how inherent generational differences can make it hard to reconcile the older and younger generations’ visions for the future.
The mediation process is foremost geared toward improving family communication so the complex dynamics, found in all families, are dealt with in a productive way. The process gives everyone a chance to be heard and individuals are able to be open and honest about what they feel is important. Open communication, with a mediator, is one of the best ways to avoid future upset over wills and estates.
The following is an example of a farming family who found value in the mediation process.
John and Ellen are in their 60s and have two married children, Jake and Rachel. The family has been trying to build and implement their succession plan for the past two years and, for various reasons, have found themselves unable to.
John plans to transfer the farm to Jake, his current employee, but is having difficulty relinquishing control and ownership. For John, much of his identity comes from his status as a farmer and the way it enables him to provide for and give generously to his family.
Both Ellen and Rachel fear John is overworking himself (and Jake) and putting his health at risk. Ellen would like to see more of her husband so they can start the third act of their lives and enjoy retirement together.
Jake wants his father to fully transition into retirement so he can gain more experience managing the farm, while his dad is healthy and be able to “start his life” with his wife.
Historical sibling issues between Jake and Rachel also factor into the succession planning process. Rachel has never been involved with the farm and does not want a share of the estate, rather, she wants Jake to succeed their father and take over the business. With her parents in retirement, she will be able to see them more frequently. She considers Jake lucky because he has the luxury of seeing their parents on a daily basis whereas she lives too far away to do so.
Jake, however, feels that he missed out on the parent-child relationship Rachel got to enjoy because he was so accustomed to working for John, as his manager rather than father. Both perceive each other as having an advantage in their relationships with John and Ellen. Even though Jake and Rachel are not at odds over their parents’ financial assets, the emotional complexity of their relationships with their parents and each other were inhibiting open, productive dialogue.
John and Ellen’s financial advisor recommended working with a mediator to facilitate a meeting with the entire family to discuss the family’s estate in a productive manner.
* Before calling a family meeting, the mediator spoke to each member to hear their individual concerns and was able to assess them as a neutral, unbiased party.
* The mediator emphasized:
- Better communication practices such as explicitly stating what position individuals were speaking from (e.g. when is John speaking to Jake as a father and when as a manager?)
- Ways to start dialogue and better articulate feelings and concerns
- Taking accountability for the actions each individual committed to
* John realized he needs to work on his life after business plan given that so much of his identity is tied to his role as a farmer. It took a neutral party to open his eyes to the concerns his family had already been voicing to him.
* Jake and Rachel realized their historical perceptions of each other were not necessarily reflective of their current realities and were better able to understand one another.
Professional mediation is not a threatening or intimidating process. Mediators lay the foundation for healthy communication which ultimately serves to enhance the overall well-being of your family.
Seeking help from professional mediators who are outside of traditional planning roles (e.g. lawyers, accountants, advisors, etc.) can be immensely beneficial to the planning process.
At Intent, we work with a collaborative collective of professionals and are therefore adept at bringing in the best individuals to meet the unique needs of every client to ensure your long-term welfare.
Connect with us to learn how mediation can help advance your financial, estate and succession planning goals.