According to Wikipedia, “Mind the Gap” was coined around 1968 as an audible or visual warning phrase issued to rail passengers to take caution while crossing the gap between the train door and the station platform. Having ridden the tube on several occasions, I can hear that British-accented voice and recall being mindful of the gap that existed. It sounds much more elegant in London than it does on the TTC!

But what about the gap that may exist in your family wealth planning?

I’m not referring to the families in Rob Carrick’s Globe columns who ask whether to use their TFSA or RRSP to assist in making a down payment on their first home or whether a senior should give up DIY investing as he heads toward his second retirement. I’m referring to ultra affluent Canadian families who have consulted all the top tier tax accountants, estate lawyers and investment advisors to ensure they have checked all the boxes for the correct tax structure, the best estate plan and a well diversified portfolio that will protect and preserve the capital they have worked so hard to earn. These families have planned the stewardship of their wealth carefully – though all that careful planning may go awry if the family cannot or does not navigate the route effectively and accidentally falls into a ‘gap’.

This is generally well executed in a single-family office as that is the role and responsibility of the staff of the family office. So what does best practice look like for families that do not have the luxury of a fully staffed family office?

Well… ideally the family will have one co-ordinator – or, if you prefer sports metaphors, one quarterback. This person’s role is to ensure that all strategies, issues and priorities are articulated, considered, and addressed. The co-ordinator conscientiously supports the family to ensure all professionals are working together and that their careful planning can be executed holistically. Families would do well to ensure they have the counsel of a trusted advisor to play this challenging and important role, and that the advisor’s motivations are aligned with their own.

The advisor should be compensated for providing advice. In other words, ensure your advisor is providing expertise and process and not just selling a product. The co-ordinator should also have a broad knowledge of all aspects of the wealth industry and should specifically understand those that pertain to your family. They should possess excellent communication skills and be able to ask tactful yet challenging questions. With this thoughtful oversight, the family can rest easy knowing that their journey will not be interrupted because of a gap in their planning.

Author: Nancy Marshall

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