As an advice-based financial planner, you’ve likely worked with plenty of clients who have rifts in their families. Many times, these rifts can affect their financial plans, especially as they are nearing retirement or are planning how to distribute their wealth after they are gone. Personally, I’ve worked with husbands who have kept their wives in the dark regarding their investment portfolios, business owners who don’t want their kids to take over (but don’t know how to tell them), and plenty of older clients who are stressed out to the max because they know that all hell is going to break loose when their family becomes aware of the details of their wills.

If you’ve got clients like this, you might wonder how much you should get involved. Obviously, these issues will affect how well you can do your job as well as the overall happiness of your clients. As a mentor, you know that your duties are not limited to investment advice or stock picking, but you also don’t want to cross a line and become a therapist. I’ve found that getting involved is helpful, but setting boundaries is a must. Here are some tips I’ve found to work well when assisting clients going through family discord.

Identify the True Issue

When your clients are displaying family discord, it’s important to pinpoint what the source of the problem is. Are you clients just not good at discussing money as a couple? Or are there deeper issues, such as a new wife resenting children of a first marriage or layers of secrecy regarding the family business and its finances? You can’t help your clients begin making changes until you know the true root of the issue. It might take some investigative work to get to the real cause, but once you uncover it, you can start making real and effective steps toward resolution.

Make Sure They Know You Care

When you show curiosity about your client and the many different dynamics occurring in their family, you are telling your clients that you care about them. Will it be an easy process? No. Will there be anger, denial, and possibly some tears and yelling? Possibly. However, if you really listen and care about your clients, it will show and they’ll end up appreciating what you’re trying to do to help. Ask lots of questions, listen openly to the answers, and don’t get rattled if some of the emotion gets taken out on you.

Show Them Your Vulnerability

It can be difficult and embarrassing for your clients to bare their souls when it comes to discussing deep family issues. That’s why it’s vital that you show a little of your own vulnerability before you ask them to reveal theirs. Tell a personal story about discord you’ve experienced in your own marriage and how you resolved it or open up about how issues with your parents affected your upbringing. By putting yourself out there, you’re showing your clients it’s okay to let down the walls and open up.

Bring Them Together

Many times, the discord involves more family members than those who are sitting across the table from you. If the issue involves an estranged child, an ex-spouse, or another family member who needs to be part of the solution, suggest bringing them in for a meeting. You can act as a mediator to try to air out the issue and come up with collaborative solutions. If everyone can’t (or doesn’t want to) be in the same room together, you can arrange a conference call or meet via Skype.

Know When to Suggest Extra Help

At the end of the day, it’s vital for you to realize that your client’s problems are not your own and that taking too much responsibility for them is detrimental to your relationship (and your own sanity). If you can’t get them on the same page and help them start mending their relationships, it might be time to suggest they see a family coach or therapist. This is an important boundary and one that takes courage to enforce, but it will be better for everyone in the end.

Finances and estates can be very emotional subjects for many families, and it’s quite likely you’ll deal with many clients throughout your career who are experiencing stressful discord. Developing a strategy of how you deal with it will serve you well now as well as throughout the rest of your career.

Have a comment or question on dealing with family discord with your clients? Please leave your thoughts below!


When you become a mentor to your clients, deeply understand them, and guide them toward a better future, then you’ve learned the ways of a financial caregiver. You’ve come to know what it means to be a true purveyor of advice, and how to use money as a conduit to a more fulfilling life for yourself and those you serve.

Patrick Tucker, owner of True Measure Wealth Management and founder of True Measure Financial Advisors, has over 20 years experience in the industry and has spent the last 15 years learning the ins and outs of the fee-only advisory business. He’s spent over $500,000 finding mentors, studying consulting businesses, taking courses, studying the soft sciences, running trial and error experiments, and learning how to be an entrepreneurial financial advisor. He’s simplified this into an easy to use blueprint for anyone who is entrepreneurial-minded and is tired of the sales culture. Patrick has been able to acquire over $158 million under management with little to no money spent on marketing.