While having a family conversation about your estate plan may be uncomfortable, such dialogue can help avoid surprises, lead to better financial planning, and help you develop a long-lasting family legacy. Here’s how to get one started.

Developing a sound estate plan can be challenging. You’re often met with a confusing maze of jargon and decisions to make that can leave you frozen in your tracks—with documents unfinished, accounts incorrectly titled, and trusts unfunded. And while much of that seems to be the difficult part, in reality it’s child’s play compared to the real elephant in the room when it comes to estate planning: the family conversation.

1. Who should join in the conversation?

Having a family conversation involves sitting down with your loved ones, the beneficiaries of your estate, and the caretakers you have selected—including executors, trustees, guardians, and investment managers. The purpose of the meeting is to ensure that everyone involved in the eventual management and settlement of your estate plan understands your wishes, their role in your estate plan, what to expect from that role, and who they can look to for guidance and advice when executing that role.

2. Why is a conversation on estate planning so important?

Death and money are two of the most uncomfortable topics to have a conversation about. Privacy regarding specific financial details is often a key concern, even among close family members, and conversations about death and disability can become emotional when loved ones are concerned. There are, however, significant benefits to having the conversation.

Financial benefits. You may, for example, assume that one or more of your survivors will be comfortable performing key roles in your estate plan.

By giving them the opportunity to understand the requirements of the role, you may learn that, in reality, they may not be the best person for the job. From their perspective, having an opportunity to hear your intentions and plans for your estate ahead of time will help them plan for the day their services are required. Lack of communication and understanding of an estate plan can result in decreased benefits for beneficiaries, along with increased stress and conflict for surviving family members. Discussing everything ahead of time can help reduce those risks.

If you are the key decision maker when it comes to the financial matters in your family, this is also a good time to ensure that your survivors are well-equipped to take over in your absence. Being unprepared to properly manage the investment needs of the estate can lead to indecision or poor decisions that result in lost investment opportunity, reduced growth, and even losses for beneficiaries. In addition, this is a great opportunity to include your Financial Advisor in the conversation, so that everyone is aligned.

Emotional benefits. Beyond the purely financial benefits of such a conversation, the emotional benefits for the family can be broad-reaching. Through an open dialogue, you may find other members of your family becoming more empowered and involved in the family financials. You’ll help everyone develop a common sense of family values, which can help you develop a long-lasting family legacy. And you’ll likely find that other family members, including parents, children, other relatives, and loved ones, will take the initiative to develop their own responsible financial and estate plans as a result of the open communication.

3. How do I get started planning the conversation?

Despite all of the benefits, however, a family conversation may still be difficult to get started. Here are a few suggestions that may help you bring everyone together.

  • First, be sincere about making this an open conversation. While letting everyone know of your wishes is a key element in the conversation, it should also be an opportunity for the rest of the family to express their hopes, fears, and concerns. The outcome of this conversation should be an estate plan that everyone has had an opportunity to understand, and for which they’ve all had a chance to provide their personal input.
  • Second, pick a time and place of relative calm to focus on the conversation. Avoid major holiday gatherings or family events, and consider selecting a neutral location where everyone can meet.

4. How can my Janney Financial Advisor help?

To help you prepare and get the most out of your family conversation, we suggest you meet with your Janney Financial Advisor prior to meeting with your family. Your advisor can:

  • Provide you with our Estate Organizer planning tool, to help you gather and organize your financial and estate information.
  • Review information about your current beneficiaries, powers of attorney, and account registration.
  • Provide a report of your current assets.

Also, consider taking what may be an extremely beneficial extra step: Plan a meeting with your Janney Financial Advisor along with the other professionals you work with, including your attorney and your accountant. Together, they can review your estate plan—and make sure there are no gaps in advice or services that could potentially derail or complicate your plan.

Working With Janney

Depending on your financial needs and personal preferences, you may opt to engage in a brokerage relationship, an advisory relationship or a combination of both. Each time you open an account, we will make recommendations on which type of relationship is in your best interest based on the information you provide when you complete or update your client profile.

When you engage in an advisory relationship, you will pay an asset-based fee which encompasses, among other things, a defined investment strategy, ongoing monitoring, and performance reporting. Your Financial Advisor will serve in a fiduciary capacity for your advisory accounts.

For more information about Janney, please see Janney’s Relationship Summary (Form CRS) on www.janney.com/crs which details all material facts about the scope and terms of our relationship with you and any potential conflicts of interest.

By establishing a relationship with us, we can build a tailored financial plan and make recommendations about solutions that are aligned with your best interest and unique needs, goals, and preferences.

Contact us today to discuss how we can put a plan in place designed to help you reach your financial goals.

This is for informative purposes only and in no event should be construed as a representation by us or as an offer to sell, or solicitation of an offer to buy any securities. The factual information given herein is taken from sources that we believe to be reliable, but is not guaranteed by us as to accuracy or completeness. Opinions expressed are subject to change without notice and do not take into account the particular investment objectives, financial situation, or needs of individual investors. Employees of Janney Montgomery Scott LLC or its affiliates may, at times, release written or oral commentary, technical analysis, or trading strategies that differ from the opinions expressed within.


Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, its affiliates, and its employees are not in the business of providing tax, regulatory, accounting, or legal advice. These materials and any tax-related statements are not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used or relied upon, by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding tax penalties. Any such taxpayer should seek advice based on the taxpayer’s particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor.

About the author

Martin Schamis

Vice President & Head of Wealth Planning

Read more from Martin Schamis

For more information about Janney, please see Janney’s Relationship Summary (Form CRS) on www.janney.com/crs which details all material facts about the scope and terms of our relationship with you and any potential conflicts of interest.

To learn about the professional background, business practices, and conduct of FINRA member firms or their financial professionals, visit FINRA’s BrokerCheck website: http://brokercheck.finra.org/