How to keep the peace at holiday gatherings this year – press enterprise
Most of us, especially after pandemic shutdowns last year, can’t wait to see our loved ones this holiday season.
December is also once a year to celebrate family traditions. On Christmas Eve, the Italian side of my family ate homemade rectangular pizzas and watched Vatican Mass on TV. Now I make tamales with my mother-in-law and watch the children open the presents.
Although my Scottish-Irish grandmother made delicious mountains of buckwheat pancakes every Christmas morning, I remember that she was more about rules than traditions. I can imagine him standing and exclaiming in the midst of the chaos of plates going in all directions (and not in a perfect circle) to “only pass the food to your right!” She also expected the opening of the gifts to encompass order and restraint.
One of my grandmother’s other rules was that there would be no political or religious discussions at the holiday table. This year, I would add that we should not discuss COVID-19 or money either. While I can’t help you if your guests are debating vaccinations, warrants, and masks, it may be possible to avoid some contentious financial talks that could spoil the festivities.
With business losses, foreclosures, the “big resignation” and inflation, the money talks are sure to prevail this year. Under normal circumstances, money problems arise just because the holidays may be the only time we see each other. After not celebrating together in 2020, the siblings might feel even more inclined to discuss issues they feel are important to them.
Examples of discussions might include who owes whom what (sometimes decades ago), who received more financial support (probably decades ago as well), who most deserves to stay in the family home, or who would have the most support. more to give up if it was necessary to take care of mom and dad.
The best advice for navigating these discussions is to rely on your lawyer, accountant, and financial planner to avoid conflict. It amazes me how clients rarely use relationships with their professionals to reduce demands on their families.
For example, one technique you can use is to postpone financial conversations. If, for example, a family member wants to discuss borrowing money while watching the game, you can respond, “This is something we can consider. How about writing down how you think this should be structured, and I can discuss that with my accountant in January? Hopefully this will temporarily shut them down so you can start watching the game in peace again.
If you have a good relationship with one of your professionals, you can blame them if you don’t want to participate in any of their ideas. Earlier this month, a customer called me on my cell phone while visiting family members out of state, and I could tell he put me on loud speaker.
The client’s brother-in-law was pressuring him to invest in a speculative real estate transaction that was not working well. From my client’s tone of voice and past relationship with the brother-in-law, I knew my client was not interested but was looking for a way out. He also didn’t want to hurt the feelings of his beloved sister and mother.
Without being dishonest or divulging confidential information, I discussed with the client all the issues related to the investment (except the brother-in-law) and why it was not the right time to invest. I heard several agreed “oh yeah” and “aah” from the audience in the background.
The client then asked me, in a positive way, if I would recommend that he give his sister money to help her financially. Luckily, I figured it was something he wanted to do, and said I didn’t see any harm in giving the gift. The result was that the client could escape a lousy investment while still preserving their relationships in exchange for what they would consider a small amount of money. Most of the professionals I know would do the same to help a good client.
Suppose you have more complex issues and you think you need professional help to minimize family conflict and facilitate communication. So here’s how you can take some emotions out of the equation and run your family’s finances more like a business …
A “family office” is a tool that was once only available to families with tens of millions of dollars or more. It is often confused with a “home office” but is quite different. With a family office, wealthy families set up a separate business office, with professionals and staff, to manage their wealth and communicate with family members. While hiring full-time professionals and staff isn’t possible for most of us, there are some aspects of the family office that you can use right now.
How to set up your “mini” family office will be covered in a future article, but here is the basics of how it might help you. The professional you choose to host your firm, whether it’s your lawyer, CPA or CFP, should be someone you and your family have good relationships with, who communicate well and whom you trust. The professional may agree to help you in the following cases:
–Store copies of important documents on their secure customer portal and make them available to other family members when you specify. (For example, you might want a family member to have access to it if you become incapacitated.)
–Organize / mediate family reunions (in person at their office or remotely) and communicate with family members according to your instructions. Sometimes financial advisers, coaches and educators can also be brought in to help.
–Report on financial performance.
– Coordinate services such as tax preparation, estate planning, property management, elder care services, investments and asset protection / risk management with your other professionals.
–Work with your favorite charities to coordinate your charitable giving plans.
The most important advantages of a family office are that it allows families to develop and preserve their wealth over several generations and to make financial decisions in an informed, pragmatic and rational (not emotional) way.
Consider relying on your professionals to help you navigate family financial dynamics in the future. In the meantime, do you hum a tune like “laughing kids, people walking past, meeting each other smile after smile” and tell any guest who wants to talk about finance, Covid, politics or religion to have a other eggnog and relax. Discussions, worries and good ideas can wait until the New Year.
Michelle C. Herting, CPA, ABV, AEP, specializes in tax planning, trust administration and business valuations. It has three offices in Southern California.