“Instead of your clients directing their money to the federal and provincial governments through taxes, help them direct it to their families and the organizations that matter to them.”
It’s a bold statement, but anchored in 48 years as an advisor and 71 years of life experience. Meet Joe Sheehan, CFP, CLU, owner of Life Design Systems in Toronto.
“People sometimes focus too much on the financial, rather than the mental and emotional aspects of their lives.” His holistic approach integrates these factors into estate planning and living benefits.
Sheehan has found that some of his clients struggle with how to balance what to leave to family and what to leave to charity, especially affluent clients. “Allocating some time for research and reflection about what is truly important to them at this point in their lives is important when it comes to financial planning.”
Reflecting on the legacy they want to leave
Sheehan cites the life stage theory from Erik Erikson, psychologist and author. “As people move into their late 50s, 60s and 70s, they start asking these questions: ‘Has my life been meaningful? What’s my legacy?’ It’s important to get clients thinking about these issues and using them as an exercise in personal exploration.” Asking clients what they want to build to create lasting meaning—not only for themselves, but for their families—encourages them to perceive their lives in a different light.
Other questions he’ll ask to start the conversation include:
- Where are you right now? How do you use your time? What are you doing in your life that keeps you growing?
- What gets you up in the morning and gives you satisfaction on a regular basis?
- Where are you going, and is that where you want to go?
- What are your most important goals in life?
- Who are the most important people in your life?
- How, besides making money, can you make a difference?
Sheehan reminds his clients that they’ll continue to grow, prosper and be leaders in their communities. Since there’s only so much money they can spend, he asks, “Where do you want the rest to go after you die: taxation, charitable donations, or legacies to children and grandchildren?” His role is to help them make more informed choices.
His clients “have the opportunity to teach and demonstrate to their children how to be effective stewards of their family wealth and good citizens.”
For example, he asks business owners who’ve been pouring a lot of energy and creativity into their work to consider putting a portion of their assets into social capital: schools, community programs, health and wellness organizations, etc. Down the road, their legacy will be not only about their business, but also the difference they’ll make in the world. This outlook is especially relevant for the capital not required for their retirement income.
Sheehan suggests to his clients that they could make a positive impact on other people outside their family by donating money to an organization they’ve volunteered with or supported financially. “If they’ve been involved in a charity, it’s worthwhile and gives them joy.”
They could also make a donation to an institution where they might end up living one day. Clients could build relationships with people who will eventually be their caregivers. Sheehan would encourage them to consider giving money to long-term care facilities that handle complex health-care situations.
He asks clients to think about their children, who may need to care for parents when they’re in a long-term care facility. Sheehan suggests they have a family meeting, and get their children’s feedback on the distribution of the estate and the health-care plan. “These discussions create clarity for end-stage planning, fair family wealth management, and efficient inter-generational planning.”
If the client doesn’t have a lawyer who specializes in wills and estate planning, he provides a referral to an estate lawyer. Sheehan believes a will can be an empowering tool for their children and their community. “Let your estate reflect what was important in your life and what you wanted to accomplish. When the will is read, that’s the transition point from your life to theirs.”
By applying the professional knowledge they’ve gained and sharing the harvest of their success, Sheehan’s clients realize they can make an ongoing difference. “That makes them happy, which for most people is their ultimate goal in life.”