Putting “Family” in Financial Planning

by: Smith and Howard Wealth Management

A couple that decides to marry does more than create a legal and spiritual bond. They also combine their strengths and weaknesses to create a team – one that has dreams, makes plans and strives to reach personal and financial goals. With the addition of children, the team becomes a family. At the same time, the personal and financial goals probably shift and become more complex. Fast-forward to becoming grandparents and the couple’s priorities may evolve even more, with an increasing focus on legacy.

Finances play a key role throughout the growth of a family. From initial investments like a 401(k) at work, to a home purchase, to college savings, retirement funds, investments, long-term health care, charitable giving and, of course, determining long-term goals.

Agreement on goals and the best way to achieve them, and communication throughout the process is essential to success. It is very helpful for the entire family to understand those goals and what it takes to reach them; this helps reduce disagreement on finances and increases excitement and engagement by family members throughout their lives. It also allows children to become responsible, financially savvy adults.

Here are some key areas that we believe families should communicate frequently on. The life-stage at which this should occur (i.e., how old should children be before you bring them into financial discussions, for instance) is up to each family. The overall objective would be to ensure that all family members understand the financial goals – therefore the reasons for the related actions – of the family.

Basic Finances

Checking, savings, credit cards and even the wise and secure use of mobile payment apps.  This article from Forbes provides some great tips on ways to introduce children to finances as they grow and mature.

Financial Planning

It is wise to include adult children in a discussion about your financial plan, especially if you are at or nearing retirement age. Unfortunately, life throws curve balls at most of us and in the event this happens to you, it is very helpful if your adult children are familiar with your financial situation, including your existing financial plan, insurance and healthcare situation, charitable giving desires and your estate plan. A personal introduction to your key advisors – financial planner, investment management advisor and attorney – is especially helpful.

Should you and/or your spouse suddenly become incapacitated, it is important for your children to have some knowledge of your financial situation and contact information (with a relationship already established if possible). This will ease the difficult process of navigating concern, care and finances for your spouse and/or child(ren) while you recover.

SHWM provides The Love Letter as one way to provide this information to your children. It allows you to record key advisor relationships, accounts, location of documents, passwords, loans outstanding/due and more. Kept in a place where your children or spouse know to go in the event of an emergency, this can play a critical role in keeping your finances in order.

Charitable Giving Plan:

Even in the wake of changes to charitable giving rules resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, we find clients are firmly holding to their charitable giving goals. It is vital that your charitable giving preferences are known by your heirs and are documented in your financial plan, estate plan and your will. There is no better way to ensure that your heirs are engaged and committed to your charitable goals than by involving them in conversations about the reasons behind your preferences and in activities that surround your supported organizations or causes.  Smith and Howard Wealth Management works with our clients to help them find the best charitable giving vehicles that achieve their goals in a tax efficient manner. We often recommend Donor Advised Funds and have previously discussed those here.

Estate Plan:

Among the most difficult of conversations to initiate and hold is the one that surrounds an estate plan. While most of us prefer not to think about dying, it is a fact of life and not planning for the inevitability can wreak havoc on your loved ones. An estate plan should involve you and your spouse (if applicable), your financial advisor and your attorney. Developing a plan that lays out your wishes and the path for executing them in a legally and financially sound way is key, as is choosing the right executor for your estate, a topic we covered here.  But estate plans are not “one and done” projects; instead, they should be revisited when major life changes occur. When marriages occur or dissolve, children are added, parties to the estate pass away or become incapacitated or significant wealth is added that may change the approach to distribution – these are just some of the things that must be considered and kept current. You may also find this article on Five Common Estate Planning Mistakes helpful.


What kind of legacy do you want to leave for future generations? Whatever it may be, it doesn’t start with your passing – it starts now. Your personal passions, charitable wishes, desires for the future of your children, grandchildren or even your alma mater – all those things must be considered, planned for, discussed with your family and put in writing so that what you build in life continues for generations after you’re gone.

The heart and soul of your legacy building is yours, but the execution of it over time involves the expertise of legal and financial advisors. The team of financial planners and investment advisors at Smith and Howard Wealth Management help our clients do this every day and welcome the opportunity to work with you. Please call Tim Agnew or anyone on our team at 404-874-6244.

Tim Agnew, Managing Director and Lisa Curles, Senior Client Service Specialist contributed to this article.