Learn tips for more productive family communication this holiday season and year round.
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Stacie Jacobsen: [00:00:00] Thanks for joining us today on “The Pulse” by Bernstein, where we bring you insights on the economy, global markets, and all the complexities [00:00:15] of wealth management.
I'm your host, Stacie Jacobsen. While the holidays are in full swing, many of us are gearing up for family gatherings. Now, this is traditionally a season of celebration and coming together, where we tell stories of the [00:00:30] last year and what we're looking forward to most in the new year.
It's also a season of gift giving to family and charities we hold near and dear. Now, this does often lead to many families talking about estate planning and inheritance, two topics that can bring out a wide [00:00:45] range of emotions.
Having opposing viewpoints about the objectives, timing, and fairness of family wealth distribution can create tension.
However, it doesn't have to be that way. If you provide a framework for constructive discussion that allows everyone's [00:01:00] viewpoints to be heard and valued, talking through these issues can not only avoid conflict, it can also provide clarity and strengthen relationships.
Our guest today, Jane Beddall is a mediator and conflict coach with extensive experience in [00:01:15] guiding families through proactive conversations around wealth, navigating turmoil in the process.
She's also the host of her very own podcast, “Crafting Solutions to Conflict.” So we're very excited to have her here today to speak with us on this topic. [00:01:30] Jane, welcome to “The Pulse.”
Jane Beddall: Thank you very much, Stacie. I'm looking forward to talking with you.
Stacie Jacobsen: From my own experience in working with clients, I know that starting the conversation is often the biggest challenge.
In your practice, what do you recommend as first steps [00:01:45] towards creating a roadmap for discussion on decision making?
Jane Beddall: Well, first, a hundred points to Blue Ribbons to anyone who is trying to do this because some families just find it so daunting to think about, they don't even start. So almost anything is better than nothing.
[00:02:00] And just to your point exactly, Stacie, you start by thinking ahead. You start by leveraging what you know, which is these people. They are your family. They are not strangers.
And you can think ahead about what is the best way to [00:02:15] broach a challenging topic. If you're going to be together in person, as it happens a lot during the holidays, let them know that there's going to be a conversation about a topic.
I think no one enjoys a bad surprise. There are plenty of people who don't like any [00:02:30] kind of surprise. Just want to know. I like to have my mental preparation in full gear.
Stacie Jacobsen: So at least just bringing up in advance a topic that you would like to discuss with the family. What about, you know, the opposite?
What should families make sure that they don't [00:02:45] do when approaching these topics?
Jane Beddall: Well, first of all, don't make assumptions. They're always a bad idea. One thing that I'm sure you've heard before, and I think a lot of your listeners have heard before, is allowing people to speak.
Let people have a voice, which means not [00:03:00] necessarily a vote and certainly not a veto.
But you may really learn something if it's more of a, this is what we think we need to talk about, but we don't have to do it in a way that gets everyone upset. We can talk about this in a more reasonable way, in a less [00:03:15] emotional way. When I work with conflict coaching clients, they actually will rehearse the words they're going to say to start what might feel like a challenging conversation.
And again, because we're all focused on people [00:03:30] we know, we know things not to say. Generally, we should all stay away from, always and never. But thinking in terms of, what is it, what's the message I want to send with the actual words, with my tone, with the words that I [00:03:45] use? You can start with lots of shoulds and musts and wills.
You must do that. For instance, dad and I have decided that you really need to. Well, okay, if that doesn't start off everyone getting upset. [00:04:00]
Stacie Jacobsen: Yeah, that's such a good point about the always and never. I think we can all bring that into most of our conversations, even when it's not about wealth and inheritance with our families.
Right. So how do you think about this from maybe a child who wants to have the conversation with their [00:04:15] parents? And so far, it's all been kind of. You know, shielded, and they don't really know what to expect going into the future.
Jane Beddall: That is so difficult for people because they can't plan. And it's not necessarily what they fear often is, it's, I sound like I'm greedy.[00:04:30]
That's not necessarily it. I want to know. And sometimes parents are well intended. They fear talking about money. But the silence is usually the worst thing of all.
Almost anything is better talked about. But it is difficult. If you're going to be [00:04:45] the initiator of this conversation, and you are the person who is literally a beneficiary, or you are someone who routinely receives some kind of a gift, But when I talk about that, thinking again, is [00:05:00] how do I want to frame this?
What can I say in advance? And in a way, the beauty of an email, a text, an old fashioned written letter, they still exist occasionally, is you get to think it through.
And what is it I want to say? I have [00:05:15] suggested to people sometimes, if there's a difficult message that's going to come across by email, you send it to yourself, you let it sit for 24 hours, then you look at it.
And it gives you a little bit of remove to be the receiver of that message. And it is possible to start with [00:05:30] the gratitude. Mom, Dad, so appreciative of everything you've done for our family to allow us to be where we are today. But expressing that and then leading into, I would like to talk with you.
Starting [00:05:45] out with what your expectation is, which is Could we have a conversation? Which is different from there's a problem, and I'm going to tell you what the problem is.
That's very different for all of us, but getting someone in any kind of challenging situation [00:06:00] to commit to talking with you. You already have one little success right off the bat of we have agreed We're going to talk about this difficult thing.
Stacie Jacobsen: Yeah, when I think about it money or wealth is often the easiest thing to [00:06:15] transfer right the knowledge education and stories that go along with it is often more difficult to discuss with family at times
Jane Beddall: I think that's right and what's interesting is that sometimes it is all about the humility of the older [00:06:30] generation who don't want to talk about what they did or what they went through.
And then, of course, the other end of the spectrum are people who have a lot to say about themselves, and that gets tiresome pretty quickly. But I think what's so helpful for families is to think of [00:06:45] financial wealth as a means to other sorts of things.
This is how my family members, as individuals, can live the lives they'd like to live.
If someone desperately wants to work in ceramics, well, maybe we can make that happen. [00:07:00] If someone else wants to be a veterinarian, well, how fabulous is that? I think we can help with that.
And then finding ways that we do things together, but not necessarily everything together. But that the wealth is a means to an end more than [00:07:15] simply the numbers or the percentages of assets that you hold or the addresses of where the real estate is.
Stacie Jacobsen: Let me ask you this, in your experience, there's often a question of, do I give equal distributions or equitable distributions?
Do [00:07:30] I want my children to be able to follow their passion or, you know, worry about money? How do you help your clients navigate that question?
Jane Beddall: Navigation is the right word, Stacie.
It is difficult. There is no magic answer. There is no answer that works for every [00:07:45] family. Every family is different.
They face similar challenges. But they are different. What is fair is often not what is equal. But that is for a family to decide. And again, I think the most important piece, always, is to [00:08:00] explain the logic.
What is your reasoning? And sometimes it needs to be said out loud, We love you dearly.
We're giving more money to your sibling. Because your sibling has followed a path in life that is wonderful, just like yours, [00:08:15] but it doesn't pay very much.
Stacie Jacobsen: What about those families that have already started out on this conversation and this journey, and maybe they didn't do the preparations that you've already discussed, and they're realizing that things are starting to go awry?
Jane Beddall: So one thing that seems to [00:08:30] be universal is avoiding the temptation to rush.
And when we are anxious, And when we are dealing with something, we really don't want to do it. Love to have this over with, the temptation is so strong to rush. Take a breath, take pause, [00:08:45] think about what you're about to say before you say it.
If you say it and you regret it, you can say, I regret that. I did not mean it to come out quite that way.
And to allow that same grace to the other person. that none of us is [00:09:00] perfect, but to slow it down a little bit is often very helpful and thinking of it as it's a series of conversations This is what we need to talk about right now and perhaps we may need we may need to make some decisions right now.
But [00:09:15] we also can look at a longer on ramp we can think about well This is the conversation that has to happen today But there will be others and we can build on those to make the overall communications more positive.[00:09:30]
Again, people don't necessarily like the answers. None of us likes to feel powerless and none of us likes to hear that someone else is getting more than we're getting if we think we should be getting the same.
But if it's at least evident that there is [00:09:45] thoughtfulness behind it, Mom and dad love everyone.
This is not a punishment. It's not a reward. Really is an attempt to do what's best for the family that can soften it a little bit.
When you are having a difficult conversation with one other [00:10:00] person, and that can happen in this context of one Adult child is saying, how dare you, mom, this is all wrong. Try to keep that to a one on one conversation.
Avoid triangulation of, well, I'm going to pull in this other person to try to be [00:10:15] in the middle. It's very hard on the other person.
Stacie Jacobsen: Let me ask you about that point that not all decisions have to be made right away. What are some of the best practices for a family to continue the dialogue?
Jane Beddall: One of the really interesting things [00:10:30] and, uh, I can't cite where it's from, but I have heard that there is research that backs the idea that frequent communications are very good for the relationship.
Don't need to be complicated, but people who perhaps only see each [00:10:45] other once in the spring and at Thanksgiving have no communication the rest of the year, they are not in great shape to have important conversations.
Partly, I don't know you well enough. I may have when we were kids, but that was a long time [00:11:00] ago.
I don't know you well enough to know how to react when you say something that I think I should be concerned about. Simple things.
A text that says, thought of you when I read the, whatever. Here's a funny thing that came up. Happy [00:11:15] birthday. Simple things, just a way to keep that relationship current, if nothing else.
And building on the positives, there probably is something positive. If you get partly through this difficult, or challenging, or [00:11:30] even positive, but complicated conversation, and it won't be finished in one day, set a time.
Set when you're next going to have this conversation. Be clear and don't end this one without having the next one ready to go.
Stacie Jacobsen: So how do you think about documenting some of [00:11:45] these conversations? And it's not to say, well, you said this or you said that, but I think of documenting them more so that everybody knows that their voice and their opinion is heard.
Is that something that you tend to recommend?
Jane Beddall: It can be great to involve everyone in that [00:12:00] project.
And in that way, there is a joint effort and a joint understanding. If for instance, I am nominated as the scribe, well, I write things down in my perspective, don't I? How could I not? Bye.
Let's say it's going to be an [00:12:15] exercise where we've just got a plain old big old white sheet up against the wall and a marker and I write down the things that I think are most important and other people look at that and say, Hmm, I wouldn't phrase it that way.
And when families do [00:12:30] this kind of creative work together, make decisions together, it is a foundation for a strong relationship and allows them to work up to even more challenging things that may happen someday.
Stacie Jacobsen: Okay, Jane, you've given us a lot of great insights on how to [00:12:45] prepare for these conversations and potentially what to expect, but let's talk about the logistics, right?
So, so you've done all of the preparation and now it's time for that meeting, almost the agenda. What should that look like?
Jane Beddall: So first, I think it's really [00:13:00] helpful to think in terms of when are we having this conversation? What time of day?
We have some family members and some families who have a couple of cocktails by whatever time of day that is, and they are not at their best.
They are more emotional. They are less [00:13:15] rational, they are less reasonable. If that person is essential to this conversation try to have it when they are at their best. Some older people, and I'm not talking about full blown dementia, but some people are starting to slide at sundown. It is [00:13:30] not their prime, best time.
Other people, if they are in charge of Toddlers do not want to be having any challenging conversation when we're closing in on nap time. So think about how, especially the people who are the most important for [00:13:45] this conversation, can be at their best. Think about where you're going to have this conversation.
Are you going to have it in a room, in a house, where there are many happy memories? Where the last time you got together, everyone was screaming or crying.
[00:14:00] Well, if that's the only room, think about how that could be set aside or even acknowledged. We struggled last time, but we think we're a loving family.
We're going to have this conversation. If you have some sort of an agenda, [00:14:15] and maybe some conversations are not that formal, not that structured.
Some people talk in terms of our family needs to have ground rules. I prefer thinking in terms of group guidelines. It is the group who makes the decision, not some one person who [00:14:30] imposes rules.
This is how we're going to try to conduct ourselves. The other problem with ground rules is, who enforces them? But if you can think in these positive terms of We are a family. We care about each other. We're going to do our [00:14:45] best. That can be a nice setup.
Stacie Jacobsen: How do you think about who should be invited to the conversations?
Jane Beddall: Well, that is a big one. And certainly families need to think about it. And by far the most important part from my perspective is think about it, [00:15:00] explain it. And stay with it. For example, really don't want to get in a position where you have married ins. And, oh, well, it seemed to be okay to let that spouse be involved.
But now that we have three [00:15:15] spouses, I think we should change things. Well, that would be very upsetting, obviously, to anyone. If there is a sense of 18 year olds, yes.
Well, then all the 18 year olds. Not, well, no, don't really think that's fair because we [00:15:30] didn't do it that way last time, so think in advance about the best way to do that kind of thing.
Thinking in terms of how much, certainly, people need to be involved. Not every piece of every conversation needs to include everyone. Sometimes it's [00:15:45] best to have certain pieces of the information shared at different times to different people, different groups of people.
So again, it's similar, Stacie, to that fair and equal and equitable and what should we do.
It's not that there is [00:16:00] one right answer. It's that it is worth exploring and it is worth trying to express why we are doing what we are doing.
Stacie Jacobsen: And if it does feel like it's going to be burdensome, there's a lot of professionals out there who can help to facilitate these conversations. Um, [00:16:15] let me ask you, what do you think one of the benefits is of bringing a third party in to help open up the dialogue?
Jane Beddall: One of the things that is really tough is for someone to play a role of facilitating within the family [00:16:30] while being part of the family. Not sure what I'm supposed to do. Am I allowed to have an opinion?
Well, no. I'm here as the facilitator. I really do have some things I'd like to say about this. Can I express them?
Well, if I do, then someone else is going to say, Well, you're [00:16:45] structuring our conversation in a way that isn't fair. That's one of the advantages. Another one is someone coming in from the outside sees things. That everyone else has been taking for granted. And it's, that's not necessarily the way it has to be.
Things can change. [00:17:00] That person can have that ability to see something a little differently. And sometimes it's perfectly okay to be angry at the person who's the facilitator.
That's okay. If you want to do that, if you need to have someone for just a while that you're [00:17:15] frustrated with, better the professional than the person in your family who's trying to juggle that role of, I'm part of the family and I'm also going to be the facilitator today.
Stacie Jacobsen: Yeah, I could, I could certainly see that. Um, all right, Jane, well, you've given us a lot to think [00:17:30] about as we enter into this time of family gatherings and you know, the excitement that comes along with that. Thanks so much for joining us and thanks to everyone for tuning in.
Jane Beddall: My pleasure.
Stacie Jacobsen: You'll hear from us next in January when we'll look back at 2023 and [00:17:45] forward into 2024.
We'll review key developments and expectations for the economy and financial markets. Don't forget to subscribe to “The Pulse” by Bernstein wherever you get your podcasts to ensure you never miss a beat. I'm your host, Stacie Jacobsen, wishing you a great holiday [00:18:00] season.