One of the most unique and special parts of my estate planning practice are what are known as "Priceless Conversations." These were the creation of Scott Farnsworth of Sunbridge Legacy. The following is excerpted from an article written by Andrew Gluck, Editor at Large, Financial Advisor Magazine, about Scott and these fantastic tools for capturing and passing on our entire Family Wealth, those assets that are most often lost when someone dies … the intellectual, spiritual and human assets that make up a great majority of our family’s wealth.
When he was just eight years old, Scott Farnsworth’s mother died of cancer. “Just before she died, my mom gave my dad a letter and instructed him to give it to me when I turned 12,” says Farnsworth. “As you can imagine, that is one of the treasures in my life to this day.”
Farnsworth says the letter was written to a 12-year-old on the cusp of becoming a teenager. “She told me how to be a good person,” Farnsworth says. “She said that even though she couldn’t actually be there with me, that a part of her would be with me always.”
The letter helped shape Farnsworth not just personally but professionally: As an estate planner, Farnsworth has created SunBridge Legacy Builder Network, a service that trains advisors in a different style of estate planning. His mission is to allow people to experience what he did as a 12-year-old boy, to create estate plans that profoundly affect your heirs and reflect your values.
Farnsworth, an attorney and certified financial planner licensee, says he started the service after a client questioned him sharply about how his trusts were connected to the life he had lived. “I couldn’t really answer him,” he admits. “So that has been my journey for the last 12 years.
“We all have a larger wealth that goes beyond money and property. It includes the wisdom we acquired, the insights that have allowed us to make better decisions as we get older, and our heritage. When you add that in with money and property, then you pass along real wealth.” . . .
Farnsworth has created a series called “Priceless Conversations” in which an advisor presents a client with questions that inspire deep conversation. The series focuses on a range of topics, including your wisdom, values, stories, the meaning of success, the meaning of money and your children. (The full list of topics is available at www.SunBridgeLegacy.com.)
My wife and I spent about 40 minutes on the phone with Farnsworth to go through the “kids” conversation. I had interviewed him a day earlier and my wife had never previously spoken with him. I told my wife, Mindy, almost nothing about what we were doing, just that it was about our estate plan. I just gave her the one-page sheet of 12 questions Farnsworth had e-mailed me and asked her to spend some time thinking about the answers.
Despite the fact that we were not engaging Farnsworth, did not know him and were doing this all over the phone instead of in person, his questions about what we wanted for our kids if we were to die today propelled my wife and I into an emotion-filled conversation about 15-year-old Alison and 14-year-old Jason. We articulated our views on topics that we had never before actually spoken about, like the role of religion in our lives, what we wanted the guardians of our children to know and how we might be able to support our two children’s differing needs.
Some of the questions included:
• Please tell me a little about each of your children, especially the things you admire and appreciate about them and their talents and strengths. What makes you proud to be their parents?
• What values, principles and life lessons would you most want to pass on to your children if you could? What makes those things important to you? How will those things make a difference in their future happiness?
• In what religion or spiritual tradition have your children been raised? How important is your religion or spiritual tradition to you and your family? What are your wishes regarding their future participation in a religion or spiritual tradition?
• Are there specific people you have not named as guardians but you want to ensure that your children will maintain a relationship with?
By the time the conversation was done, Mindy and I had thought about ways that we could support our children’s different needs. Alison, an adventurer, could be given a travel stipend annually. Jason, a doer, could be treated to semi-annual visits with successful friends of mine who could become professional coaches. Money could be earmarked to fund memberships at places of worship and for education of the next generation.
By promoting a discussion about what is important to Mindy and me—and not just focusing on the mechanics of protecting our estate from taxes—the estate plan we devise can be focused on supporting our values, making the plan far more meaningful to my wife, myself and our children.
Farnsworth cites many such stories. There’s the divorced entrepreneur with three sons, who set up an advisory board that would assist her children if they ever wanted to start their own businesses. A devout Catholic, she also drafted an estate plan that provided funding for her children to visit sites of religious significance…
Farnsworth sent Mindy and me a CD with the conversation we had about our children. We’ve put it in a safe place for the kids to listen to one day.