Many of us are taught that it is rude to talk about money. You do not discuss it in public and certainly never in front of the children.
I have tried to break the money taboo within families for years, encouraging clients to bring adult children to meetings. Video calls make it a lot easier from a practical perspective today, allowing family members to dip into relevant parts easily.
There are good selfish reasons for advisers to encourage this. A huge amount of managed client money moves from one wealth management business to another as the next generation brings in their own advisers to look after inherited wealth. Delivering a service that crosses the generations may be more expensive, but can reduce that outflow.
And for families themselves there are even better reasons to broaden the people involved in the discussions.
Such meetings can help ensure wills are written and up to date — and the family knows where to find them. We can discuss lasting powers of attorney. I find that families are motivated to act decisively when I explain to the children how difficult it would be to deal with banks and the like without authorisation if their parents had a car accident or suffered a stroke and became mentally incapacitated.
These discussions can also make managing your estate easier. Even with the best will in the world — pardon the pun — you are unlikely to cover everything. Over the years I have seen numerous family disputes over how many people granny promised her engagement ring to. Letters of wishes formalising discussions made with your family and adviser ensure not just that your intentions are carried out by the executors of your estate but that they are clear.
Knowing the adviser also means your children have someone they can trust in the management of your affairs, either if you become incapacitated or when you die.
It can enable healthy discussions about wealth transfer now. If you have plenty, the likelihood is that your family will often appreciate it most when they are young, buying first homes and raising children, not when they are in their 70s and you are getting a birthday card from the King. At the same time, though, do not give away too much too soon. I always tell clients the best gift they can give their children is not to be a burden on them — you may need money for care costs.
Family meetings are a good way to ensure the family wealth is used to best effect. They can also help the next generation plan. If children know how much they are likely to inherit, it might affect their own saving and spending plans or give them the confidence to start their own children on the path of private education of their choice.
Sometimes one child needs help now, but not their siblings. On several occasions we have drawn up plans with the whole family, and made clear how the estate will be rebalanced so this child receives less on death and the others are not penalised.
I have known discussions prompt confessions from children or grandchildren about the state of their marriage — you do not want to make a large gift just before a couple separate if it means the gift could get entangled in the divorce settlement and half of it disappearing into the pockets of the departing spouse. In such circumstances gifts have been delayed.
There can be problems. Money — and detailed knowledge of its existence — can demotivate. Giving the right amount and the timing of gifts is a delicate business, and there will inevitably be some discussions without the family in the room around this.
One couple were worried about inheritance tax and also wanted to help their children, all in their early twenties. They decided to give each child several hundred thousand pounds immediately, but asked us to assign a young financial planner to coach them. The children discussed their own plans, were helped to budget and taught the principles of investing. All of them wrote wills, leaving their estate to their siblings to ensure that in the event of death the money did not circulate back to the parents. All now own homes. They also have Isas and pensions and are saving. None takes their gift for granted.
For other families, this is a chance to discuss values — how the children might want their inheritance to be managed today or how the parents might like to see it spent tomorrow. I have seen rows over this — being in the room with an adviser can defuse tension but does not always stop the arguments. One infuriated parent withheld planned gifts because her son complained so strongly in the meeting that she was not investing in line with his ethical principles.
Generally, though, I find hosting these meetings can make it easier for parents to discuss difficult matters — such as the thorny issue of pre-nups and post-nups, and passing wealth to children and grandchildren who are raising families outside the legal and tax protections of wedlock.
In one instance I helped a client whose son was constantly haranguing his elderly and frail father for money. I made it clear why his dad needed every penny he had, encouraging the son to look elsewhere for income.
Finally, the discussion can ensure there are no surprises on your death. It helps the children to know, for example, if you have taken out a lifetime mortgage to give them money, so they do not get a shock when they find the family home is mortgaged. It means they can be aware of costly resale charges on the retirement village property you have bought.
People do not have these discussions enough. They do not always work, but often they are liberating for all concerned. They promote the idea of family money, to be valued and managed so it cascades down, supporting generation after generation.
Charles Calkin is a financial planner at wealth manager James Hambro & Partners