Dr. Amy D'Aprix
Life Transition Expert
Ben D. Jones
Managing Director – Intermediary Distribution
BMO Global Asset Management
BMO Global Asset Management
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Family conversations that should not be avoided
This episode centers around family conversations that should happen when investors are planning for their estates and legacy. In this episode, our guest is Dr. Amy D’Aprix, a life transition expert and BMO Wealth Institute contributor. She discusses properly approaching challenging conversations, enhanced estate planning, planning beyond the will, and the unique position of the financial advisor.
In this episode:
- Defining enhanced estate planning
- Going beyond financial considerations
- Creating a lasting legacy
- The topics that are most challenging for families
- How to approach clients about having these conversations
- The importance of listening and validating
Like what you hear?
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – As advisors, we have an opportunity. We have an opportunity to help people see the world differently and to create more harmony, and when we do that, we build our relationships with our clients.
Ben Jones – Welcome to Better conversations. Better outcomes. presented by BMO Global Asset Management. I’m Ben Jones.
Matt Smith – And I’m Matt Smith. In each episode, we’ll explore topics relevant to today’s trusted advisors, interviewing experts and investigating the world of wealth advising from every angle. We’ll also provide actionable ideas designed to improve outcomes for advisors and their clients.
Ben Jones – To learn more, visit us at bmogam.com/betterconversations. Thanks for joining us.
Disclosure – The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of BMO Global Asset Management, its affiliates, or subsidiaries.
Ben Jones – Now where are we recording today?
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – We’re in Toronto, Ontario.
Ben Jones – You got in late last night, so I appreciate you —
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Early this morning actually, about 2:30.
Ben Jones – Early this morning.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Yeah.
Ben Jones – Appreciate you making it in this morning. I know how those flights work out.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Glad to be here.
Ben Jones – Today our topic centers around family conversations that should not be avoided. As an advisor, when your clients are doing their legacy and estate planning, you can do so much more beyond just handling the financial aspects. In this episode, we chatted with Dr. Amy D’Aprix about properly approaching challenging conversations, enhanced estate planning, planning beyond the will, and the unique position that financial advisors find themselves in. We used an article from the BMO Wealth Institute Dr. Amy contributed to as a jumping off point for our discussion. It’s titled The Family Conversation You Should Not Avoid: How to Discuss Your Legacy. You can access it at bmogam.com/betterconversations.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – I’m Dr. Amy D’Aprix, and I’m BMO Financial Group’s life transition expert. Within BMO, I have the great pleasure of working with our clients. I do client workshops on topics that are more life topics but always have a financial implication.
Ben Jones – I just wanted to start, maybe, and I’m just going to read a quote directly from the article, because I think this really frames the conversation well. How do you want to be remembered? What is the lasting memory that your want your heirs and beneficiaries to have of you when you pass away? Will they remember the period of loss as when they were comforted and supported by each other, or will it be one of the most difficult interpersonal experiences of their lives? Now, I know that I can relate to the last part of that sentence. It seems as though a lot of people end up never talking to their brothers and sisters again after an experience like this.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Then can I just say, to me this is legacy. When we talk about legacy, a lot of times in financial services, we go right to money. I say legacy is so much greater than that. It’s wider, bigger. It’s about leaving behind the essence of who we are, it’s about our stories, our memories, and our values, and what you just read is really what we’re talking about when we talk about legacy. How do you want to be remembered, and what’s going to reverberate generationally?
Ben Jones – Right on, and I think for our advisors that are listening to this show today, I think a lot of times they’re just focused on checking the box on do we have the estate plan, the will, et cetera. I think you really nailed a way that they can really add a significant more amount of value to their clients.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Yep. I always say the documents without the conversations are not very useful. Obviously you’ve got to have the documents, we all need them and want them, but you have to have the conversations right along with it for them to really have the value that they should have.
Ben Jones – I was reading the paper, and I know it’s a very serious topic, but I was giggling in the paper because there’s a stat from the survey that was done. 44% of people kind of view the most important reason to have a will is to prevent family disputes, which is not, I believe, what wills were intended for?
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Exactly. And if you think about that, it’s key because I always say to people, this again comes back to the conversation. We can delay or postpone conversations, but we can’t avoid them. They happen at some point. Often they happen after a will is read because people haven’t talked. So even when people have had the intention of I’m writing this will to prevent there being arguments, if there hasn’t been conversation around those that will and powers of attorney, often arguments arise.
Ben Jones – There’s so many people out there that have stories like this. A plan is triggered by the passing of a loved one, and instead of bringing comfort and joyful memories; it creates a legacy of conflict. So how can you and your clients avoid the pitfalls that affect so many and instead create a legacy that is cherished?
In the paper, the concept of enhanced estate planning is discussed, and I think our audience is very familiar with the concept of estate planning.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Right.
Ben Jones – But this idea of enhanced estate planning really was the first time I’d ever heard of this. So kind of walk us through what the difference is between enhanced and non-enhanced estate planning.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – I think when we think estate planning, we think about the documents. When we go to enhanced wealth planning, we’re really saying let’s step back and look at the family situation. Let’s look at your life. We all think the word holistically is overused probably, but I want to use it here, because it’s the idea of I’m going to step back and look at these documents in the context of my family and my life. What do I need to think about, plan for, and talk about? Those are the issues we need to think about when we’re talking about enhanced estate planning. So it’s not just let’s get these documents hammered out, it’s bigger than that, it’s getting people to look at them in the context of their lives today and the impact that they will have on people in the future.
Ben Jones – Yeah, I think — A lot of people probably when they — the older they get, they think more and more about this subject, but they think about it in a very personal context, and maybe only discuss it with their lawyer or financial advisor, but one of the things I really liked about this idea of an enhanced estate planning is that it really starts with having kind of even some difficult conversations with your family members.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Absolutely. Often people will say to me, should I share what’s in my will. I say well, it’s going to be shared eventually, and here’s the thing: If you don’t have the conversations ahead of time, you’re not there to clarify what you meant when it’s read. So you want to start by having family conversations and framing your will out of those conversations rather than the other way around. As advisors, I think it’s really key to talk to people about have you talked to family members? I also want to tell you, Ben, I’m a realist. We know that not everybody gets along with people in their families, there are longstanding conflicts. All of this has to be customized to a person’s family, but within the context of an individual’s family, you can still have these conversations. This is not about taking an ideal family and having them, it’s about looking at given our family structure, where do we start and how do we have the conversations that need to be had. As a colleague of mine said one time when we were talking about this, when you’re up in Heaven, all Hell is breaking lose down below, which I think is a great way to remember it.
Ben Jones – It’s a great quote. Yeah, that is, and unfortunately probably a very true statement as well.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Again, you start with the person you can start with. You think about — I always say to people, think about who’s going to be either involved or impacted or be someone who’s a bit of a disturber in this situation. You want all of those people involved in conversation at one point or another, and it doesn’t mean you have to gather everybody together at the same time.
Ben Jones – What are you think the topics that cause the most challenges for individuals?
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Well, this is an interesting thing, Ben, because what I have found is what professionals think and what actually happens may be different. So often in financial services, advisors will say to me it’s about the money. Obviously there are families who have issues about how things are distributed financially and what the assets are, and who got more of the assets. But I’ll tell you a topic that when I talk to estate lawyers, they will say sometimes is even bigger than the money, which are the possessions that we have that may have emotional value but may not have any financial value. They may, but they may not. Often people don’t think about how to distribute those things. So I had a estate lawyer who I used to do some speaking with, and he’d say it’s the spoon that’s been passed down generations, and then who’s going to get the spoon now, right? So sometimes these things have financial value, but a lot of times they don’t and people don’t think how to distribute them. So when they die, their families are often left with the sense of inequity about how it happened, one sister got more or why did this grandchild get that. I encouraged people to think about how they’re going to deal with that, as well as the money. A couple of fun ways that people have dealt with this that I know: First of all, you can use what I kind of jokingly called the sticky note method, where everybody gets together and walks through the house and puts sticky notes on what they want with their name. I talk about that method in one of my workshops, and afterwards I had a gentleman come up to me and say you mentioned that method, and I just want to say one thing about it. Don’t forget that sticky notes can be moved, and that’s what happened in my family. My sister moved them and ended up with things that we didn’t know she was going to get. So that may not be the best method, but I actually have heard really creative things that people have done where they’ve made a list of all their possessions, and then they’ve had a fake auction using Monopoly money and getting the family together and people bidding for things while the people are still alive, doing this, knowing that they now have the comfort of knowing who’s going to get what of their things. I think often adult kids don’t realize that a lot of times older adults really want to know who’s going to be getting the possession, want the kids to know the stories behind it. So a lot of times adult children say I don’t want Mom and Dad to think I’m after their things, and a lot of times there’s comfort in this. I talked to both generations about how to really approach these conversations in a way that can be fun and not just let’s sit down and think about when I’m dead, what you’re going to get. There are better, easier ways to do that.
Ben Jones – I can see a lot of fun happening with the Monopoly money. One of the great memories —
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – I thought that was so creative.
Ben Jones – Yeah.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – I know, and I actually went through this with some folks who I consider to be like second parents to me, and they included me because their daughters and I are like sisters. We went through the house with a yellow pad and three columns, and the parents told us stories about everything. These things didn’t necessarily have financial value, but they had a lot of memories attached to them. Afterwards, the parents called me and said thank you so much for encouraging the other girls to do this, because we know when you actually have to distribute those things. You’re going to be grieving, and we hope that the stories that we shared today and the laughs that we all had will help ease some of that grief.
Ben Jones – That’s really neat. So did you capture it on a yellow pad?
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – We did.
Ben Jones – Or did you record audio or a video?
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – We just did three columns and went through and they would tell us stories about something and then the three of us would say kind of which one of us is the best person to have that. The parents were thrilled. I kind of pushed the daughters to do this because they didn’t want their parents to feel like they were after their things or thinking about their death, but the parents wanted to do it. I have found that to be true in many, many circumstances. Whatever the way is you do it, come up with a way so that people know what to do with your possessions is what I always say to folks. That prevents a lot of family arguments. For some people, they come up with a draw, so you just — it goes through the family one, two, three, four, and then you keep doing it until everybody has chosen what they want. So there’s lots of methods for this, but advisors need to encourage their clients to do this, because this is where a lot of the arguments come in.
Ben Jones – We can enhance estate planning by moving beyond the documents and start with the hard conversations that clients should be having with their family members. Remember, the old spoon might not be financially valuable, but it may have more sentimental value to a family member than any of their monetary assets. Helping your clients start these conversations will also help you create deeper relationships with them, as their trusted advisor. These conversations have the potential to be a bit uncomfortable, so how should you approach these discussions with your clients?
Ben Jones – So just shifting gears through the details around some of these discussions.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Sure.
Ben Jones – There’s a difference between kind of a discussion and the detailed discussions.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Yes.
Ben Jones – So I’d like to maybe tackle this from two different angles.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Okay.
Ben Jones – One is how our audience can approach these subjects with their clients.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Great.
Ben Jones – And then maybe second we can talk about how their clients can approach this with their families.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Fabulous. Well, I think the advisors have such an opportunity. I think you have an opportunity to, I always say, gently wake people up, and I feel like that’s sort of my role at this stage of my life is to kind of gently tap people on the shoulder and say hey, you know what I know is there are things that if you talk about, you’re going to have a richer life and the people you love are going to have a richer, more harmonious life. So let me share that with you, and as advisors, you can do that as well. I think what you can do is talk about your experience in working with families. Talk about the things that you see hang people up, and then make suggestions for how to approach this. Often advisors say to me, I’m the financial person, so I feel a little funny. I’m not a therapist. How do I get into this? I think it’s about being authentic. I think it’s about opening up the conversation in a way that feels real to people, and perhaps just a way I just said, in saying I’ve worked with lots of people, and I just want to share with you from my experience things you might want to talk about. As an advisor, you want to listen for some key things, so as people are going through transitions, they will tell you about them, and you will feel what’s going on with them if you’re listening. So I recommend kind of a four-step process for people. As an advisor, if you listen to the story, and this really requires you to be listening, to hear what the person is saying because I believe one of the number one human needs is to feel heard and understood. If you simply listen well, you will not believe the difference it makes in your relationship with your client. Very few of us ever feel really listened to. People are on their phones, they’re busy, you feel like you’ve got 10 seconds of their time. So if you’re making eye contact and really listening, you’re changing your relationship with your client. When the client shares with you what’s going on, the next thing you want to do is to validate the emotion. What that means is you just want to acknowledge it. You want to say something, for example, if a client’s telling you that well, I’ve got this situation with my step kids, and I’m not sure how we’re going to do the estate planning because it’s a little complicated, you can respond with something like wow, I’m guessing that must be, for you, a little — either it could be sad, it could be a little scary, you might be feeling — whatever you think the emotion is. The beauty of doing, when you name a person’s emotion, you can be wrong and it doesn’t matter, because what they will do is tell you what they’re feeling. Let’s say you said well, boy, that must really tick you off that your stepson is doing such and such. The person might say no, no, no, I’m not upset, I’m not angry, I’m hurt. And you go oh, I get that, I get it. Then yeah, they tell you why they’re hurt. It’s a beautiful thing to watch happen, and it will happen without you having to do anything. Don’t be afraid to name the wrong emotion. After you do that, you can normalize the experience, and it’s key to do that, first to validate the emotion, then to normalize the experience because when you normalize the experience, you’ll say something like when I chat with families or clients, I know when people share these things with me, they kind of feel like they’re the only family struggling with this. I want to tell you, almost every client I have has something going on in their family. That’s normalizing. It’s saying you’re not alone. The problem is if you normalize before you validate the emotion, you make people feel discounted. So if you go everybody feels this way, it’s like well, they don’t really care that much about me. Once you’ve done this, once you’ve listened to the story, you’ve validated the emotion and normalized the experience, then you can move into a plan. You can talk about where do we go from there, how do I help you get through that, and maybe what you’re helping them do is suggesting they have a conversation. Maybe you’re giving them a resource to guide them through that, but you have to do the first three before you can jump to the plan. This happened for me after a client workshop in creating goodwill, and this couple called me over, and they were having a situation where their daughter-in-law, they felt, was keeping them from their grandkids, and they had lost their relationship with their grandkids. They were doing an estate plan, and they were trying to figure out how to deal with this. They laid out the story for me, and by the way, the whole time I spent with them was 10 minutes. It was no more because I had people lined up to talk to me that night. So the wife told me the story and how she felt about this, and I said wow, something to the effect of I hear this. I’m guessing you must feel so sad that you don’t have relationships with the kids. And she said yeah, we’re really struggling. I said — we were sitting in a room with about 200 people, and I said I have to tell you, if you look around this room, probably almost everybody in this room has some story, not this one, but some story. I know it feels horrible, but I want you to know it’s not that uncommon, and there are ways to deal with it, and I could see her relax. Now her husband had left at the beginning of this story because he didn’t even want to hear about it, and he came back as she was finishing telling me. They had come up with a plan to write a letter to their grandkids. The idea was that they were going to talk their grandkids what had happened. But as I heard the plan, I thought the problem with that plan was that it was going to pit the grandkids against their mom. That was not their intention, these were lovely people. So I suggested that perhaps they step back and think three generations from now and how that would letter impact, because as you get people to think beyond the current situation, it really helps because these things reverberate generationally. We all know families where there are people saying I don’t know why we don’t really talk to Uncle Joe, and I don’t know what happened back there or in our grandparents’ generation. We can help by getting people to think generationally, beyond just where they are now. I suggested that they think about the letter that way and have someone who wasn’t involved read the letter that they were going. The next day I got the nicest e-mail from the husband saying to me that 10 minute conversation was a life changer for them. I read that and I thought it just reinforced for me we have an opportunity with clients that you may not even realize you have to be life altering for them simply by listening and making one or two little suggestions and not just responding to the financial, but being able to hear the human in that too.
Ben Jones – I used to believe that an advisor’s job was to deal with the financial aspects of framing these things, but what I’ve realized over the last year in talking to experts like yourself is that they’re really uniquely positioned because they’re an objective third-party and so many people aren’t willing to have these discussions with their family where there’s embedded Legacy issues.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – And I’ve been working in financial services since 2008. It’s been such an honor for me to work with advisors who get it. The ones who really understand this have unbelievable relationships with their clients and they’re the ones who, in my view when times get tough, maintain those relationships with the clients because we all know the economy changes, but relationships are what sustain people in tough times.
Ben Jones – Yeah, that is so true. So, we talked a little bit about approaching these conversations from the advisors and I love the four-step process. Is there some sort of similar way that their clients can breach these topics with their families?
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Absolutely. The four steps still work with families, but there are some add-ons because when you’re dealing with your own family, you obviously now have the overlay of emotion. So, I say to people make sure that you clearly identify what you’re going to be talking about. Most families don’t get together and have these conversations. So, what you want to make sure is that it’s targeted otherwise they turn into kitchen sink conversations. People bring everything to the table. So figure out what you’re going to talk about. As other things come up, if they do, that need to be discussed I encourage families to write them down and talk about them another time.
Ben Jones – Put them in the parking lot.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Yeah, parking lot them. Do not let the conversation wander every which way. This is a hard one, but I suggest to families to the best of their ability that they avoid assumptions and expectations. Now, you can all stop laughing, but these are the people we grew up with, the people that we’ve known our whole lives, and so this is tough but we have to check those assumptions and expectations at the door and be open to seeing these people that we know so well in a different light. And then it’s key that everybody gets to be heard. This goes back to that heard and understood thing. So, it’s important that people each get time in this conversation to express their viewpoint. All of that needs to happen, all that listening before problem solving. So, I say usually people are sharing information. Right, so it could be somebody sharing what they’re putting in their will, like I just want to share this and I want to hear your reaction. We use a great clip of this brother and sister who are dealing with the aftermath of their dad’s death. And he had a will, and it was a good will, but in that will there were three things that came out. He gave more money to the son, but the son made less money than his sister and had kids and the sister didn’t have kids. That was one issue. Another issue is that there is a picture painted by the grandfather that has no monetary value, but has emotional cache. And the third was he left money to honor his wife who had predeceased him at the hospital where she had cancer. And so you hear this conversation in our film clip between the brother/sister and their issues are starting with the last one first: you know, mom was so much more than the cancer. She volunteered at this place and we would have left it there. And then you hear them talking about the painting and they’re really stuck about who’s going to take this painting because they feel their grandfather really painted it for them and it had this connection for them. And then the third issue is you hear them talking about the money and the sister says I know that I make more money and he probably was leaving it for the grandkids, but you know parents have their favorites. So, even though logically she knows what it’s about, emotionally there’s that I always knew dad loved you best feeling. And I think this is an example where if that dad had had a conversation prior to his death about what was in his will, he could have easily explained and, just like we’re talking now, he could have sat and chatted with them about why he was splitting the money. He probably had no idea this painting was going to be an issue and they could have figured it out then. There’s lots of creative ways to deal with things when everybody wants the same item including people getting it — one person gets it for a period of time, the other gets it for a period of time. And then the third issue around the mom and the legacy, he might have shared with them what he was doing and their response might have been well, you know dad, we think it should be such and such and he might have said I hear you, but I’m still going to do this because this is what matters to me. But you know what? They would have felt heard. They would have felt heard and understood. They may not have agreed with him because this isn’t always about agreeing, but it shifts the emotion in the family. Instead, they’re left with this emotional legacy of uncertainty about all those things. So, the family conversation is focused, avoiding assumptions, listening to each other, and then making a plan on top of those other steps I shared.
Ben Jones – It does seem though like advisors, not only could they practice the conversations that they can have with their clients through these four steps, but they can almost coach their clients —
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Absolutely.
Ben Jones — into the four steps that they should go through with their family. I really like that.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Yeah, yeah. And it’s very doable and people get it and it’s — there’s no mystery to this. It’s just being more authentic and open with each other.
Ben Jones – So, I want to talk about maybe two other things here related to this subject. So, the idea of blended families. You know, the Brady Bunch situation where there’s kids from both marriages that come together, they make a family. These seem like, especially if it happens maybe later in life when they’re adult children and not younger when they’re a more blended family, can cause a lot of awkwardness and challenging conversations.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Yes.
Ben Jones – How do you suggest approaching this?
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Well, first of all I think the couple needs to talk. This is key. And I think you should encourage couples to talk early about this, not just when they’re doing their estate planning.
Ben Jones – So, what is early? Is it before they get married?
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – If possible. You know, my thing is early enough and on conversation and I always say to people it’s not once-and-done, we’re just opening a conversation here. If we can get people to — at essential conversations project, which is my business, we’re all about prevention and we say we don’t always catch people before they get into some sort of conflict, but what we can at least do is prevent future conflict. But ultimately, our goal is how do you get people talking where it’s normative to talk about things earlier? And I am committed that we’re going to do that because I see what happens for people when they do it earlier. So, yes, couples before they get married if possible and if you’re the advisor and you don’t think these conversations have been held, you have an opportunity to encourage people to have them. And again, you can just say I can see what happens when people don’t have these conversations down the road. It’s good to talk about these things now about what do you each see for the future, if it’s his/hers/mine. I mean, sometimes you have those situations. I just had a meeting with somebody the other day and he was describing that he has two kids, I think, with his wife, but she brought kids into this marriage, and he’s inheriting money, and he was thinking not so sure. Like, to me that’s just my kids’ money.
Ben Jones – Yeah.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – You can imagine if that hasn’t been talked about what that’s going to be like, right, with his wife?
Ben Jones – Yeah, is it our family or is it your family?
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Right.
Ben Jones – I can imagine the emotions that get tied up there.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Yeah, and I think you may have to encourage people to get some support. They may need to go have somebody help them sort that out, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You can normalize that for people – that most families can’t do this alone. But, this is one of those conversations — you can delay and postpone it, but you can’t avoid it. It’s going to happen at some point and if you don’t deal with the blended family things, they’re going to rear their ugly head and there are lots of families that get blown apart by those.
Ben Jones – And so are there any — given this dynamic — are there anything that needs to be changed up in that four step process or is it the same four step process?
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – Same four step. And I think it’s the idea that getting people to be as transparent as possible is the key.
Ben Jones – The four-step process: Listen, Validate, Normalize, and Plan. We’ve picked up some great ideas from Dr. Amy about each step. As an advisor, put aside your urge to jump straight to step four and take some time to engage with each step along the way. By engaging in a better conversation framework, you can create a strong bond and better outcomes for your client.
Dr. Amy D’Aprix – I would say practice is key and don’t be afraid to have the conversations. I know — especially when your focus is the financial — some people say I feel like I’m being intrusive. You’re not being intrusive because the financial and the non-financial go hand in hand. We can’t separate them and just talk about money without getting people to talk about their lives, and you may be the only person who does that. And that, again, I want to stress in my experience since 2008, it strengthens relationships with clients. It doesn’t destroy them.
Ben Jones – Putting the ideas from this episode to work for your practice can enhance the estate planning for your clients and the value that you provide them. For full show notes and links, visit bmogam.com/betterconversations. Big thank you to Dr. Amy D’Aprix for joining us on the show. Our production team includes Jonah Geil-Neufeld and the Freedom Podcasting team, as well as our team here at BMO Global Asset Management; Pat Bordak, Gayle Gibson, and Matt Perry.
Ben Jones – Thanks for listening to Better conversations, Better outcomes. This podcast is presented by BMO Global Asset Management. To learn more about what BMO can do for you, go to bmogam.com/betterconversations.
Matt Smith – We hope you found something of value in today’s episode, and if you did, we encourage you to subscribe to the show and leave us a rating and review on iTunes. And of course the greatest compliment of all is if you tell your friends and coworkers to tune in. Until next time, I’m Matt Smith.
Ben Jones – And I’m Ben Jones. From all of us at BMO Global Asset Management, hoping you have a productive and wonderful week.
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