Although a finance-related conversation with your parents might be brimming with sticky and uncomfortable side-conversations such as mortality and trust, this particular deed nonetheless must be done. Because of the awkwardness of this conversation, many families avoid it altogether. In fact, one out of three parents over the age of 60 say that they’ve never discussed such things with their children — things like inheritance plans and the important documentation therein. On the kids’ part, they may worry that talking about such things might seem as if they are hell-bent on getting their hands on their parents’ hard-earned money.
Still. Have the talk. It’s important — no, actually — it’s essential, to being prepared for the future. Here are four ways you might consider throwing yourself into one of these conversations with your good ol’ parents.
Figure out when is a good time, for all of the parties involved — siblings, parents & house pet, all — to sit down and discuss this topic. Make it clear that this discussion will be about things like important legal and financial documents (wills and the power of attorney, etc.). Don’t wait for panic to ensue, or an emergency, to have the talk. A study by Ameriprise Financial found that a life-altering incident was the triggering event for 90 percent of children who’d actually discussed estate planning with their parents.
The first conversation is just the warm-up, too. So no need to get down and dirty just yet. It just lays a foundation for more conversations to come. Be firm about the fact that there will, in fact, be more conversations to come. Don’t expect just one conversation to cover all things. You’ll need many. This is the first. So, congratulate yourselves on accomplishing that, at least!
Start out with the basics
It can be tough. When you start discussing money with family members, they can be standoffish or aggressive. These are defense mechanisms, of course, as conversations such as these are upsetting to many. Ron Long, head of regulatory affairs and elder client initiatives at Wells Fargo Advisors, suggested to the New York Times “approaching discussions from a group-planning perspective — sharing what end-of-life goals you’re considering and asking your parents about theirs.”
Be sensitive to the close-to-the-chest mentality that your parents might keep in relation to questions such as the ones you ask. Think less interrogative (money, money, money) and more collaborative (exchanges of information, locations of accounts, and who has the power of attorney in the family).
Discuss heavy issues
You can’t avoid this stuff like the plague. Once you’ve opened the door to easier communication by starting slow and establishing a bit of a rapport and a non-confrontational attitude, it is time to pull out some of the proverbial “big gun” topics. The ones that are going to make your parents feel slightly uncomfortable, and definitely you, too. This includes things like funeral arrangements and possibly the declining of the health of a family member. Don’t infantilize or offend. Just be forthright, honest and open about your concerns and chances are they will reciprocate on that level, too. As they say: “It’s only awkward if you make it awkward.”
Don’t shut a conversation down by being too odd or uncomfortable so as to make everybody in the room feel odd or uncomfortable by association. Keep a brave and willing face instead. You might consider working with a financial advisor to mediate the slippier of discussions and topics if you feel that you simply cannot do without.
Don’t judge (brah)
These conversations are fraught with information that your parents have kept secret and hush hush from you for years. As such, your parents are probably skeptical, at best, to disclose certain details of their finances. What you can do, in order to make the environment as friendly as possible for disclosures, is to be non-judgemental and accepting about what you may learn. If your parents have been caught in a financial scam (elder abuse cost Americans more than $36 billion each year, according to financial services firm True Link Financial) then the best thing to do is avoid shaming them and, instead, take up proaction as your tool of defense against possible future financial mishaps. Focusing on fraud prevention via routine communication about finances and keeping all your important documents up-to-date is the best way to go.
Although these conversations might be tough, they are essential for the financial well-being of the family as a unit. Your parents want to make sure everything is in order for you when they pass, and you want to make sure that you can handle all that will be on your plate for that eventuality. As such, open and honest communication free from undue awkwardness or blame is the best way to go and will also get the most accomplished. You’re all on the same team, after all!
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