We Have to Talk About This, Now

“If I get hit by a bus” is the preamble I use before imparting to my kids some bit of information that I may not be here to tell them later. Although I am not given to gloomy thoughts about my future, I am occasionally reminded by how suddenly one can be knocked off an optimistic trajectory.  On a flight last Saturday night, during turbulence that made the trip feel more like a roller coaster than an airplane,  my confidence was shaken along with the plane. By the time I got home, I decided I could no longer procrastinate and needed to talk to my kids, soon, about the future.

We have to talk about this now, talking with our adult children

Aren’t We Too Young For This?

Pew research reports that 63% of the 75 million baby boomers have at least one adult child. At 18, kids step onto the road toward adulthood, with college, work and the beginning of their own futures. Our relationship with our children changes at this juncture and we expect them to appreciate, possibly for the first time, adult topics regarding home, health, and finances. Acknowledging them as adults, rather than continuing to treat them as children, means trusting them with important family information. Further, while we discuss and reveal arrangements for our future, we model the responsible planning that they, someday, may remember and emulate.

Yes, We Have to Talk About This, Now

Experts agree about the value of involving our older children in the conversation, although they acknowledge it is a talk most of us would rather skip.  Lori R. Sackler, financial advisor and author of The M Word, discusses the topic of communicating with our adult kids.

She says the question she is most often asked by her clients is “What’s the best way to tell our grown children about estate plans without creating a family drama?” She cautions, “Families don’t do enough to prepare their heirs for the handoff. It’s like giving your 16- year old son the keys to your car without a driving lesson.”

In a recent Wall Street Journal article,  The Inheritance Conversation. Ugh. columnist Veronica Dagher, cautions that “For many parents, it is easier to talk to their children about sex than money.” She adds  “waiting too long to discuss the issue, or avoiding the conversation altogether, is a bad idea, financial advisors say. It can cause confusion, mistrust and leave heirs unprepared to manage the family’s wealth.”

Cautionary Tale

Personal finance reporter, Tara Siegel Bernard, wrote recently in the New York Times, “The Talk You Didn’t Have With Your Parents Could Cost You,” Bernard reported on the difficulties three adult siblings faced as they sorted through their 74-year old mother’s affairs after her sudden death due to a fall. Though they had earlier tried to speak with her about her plans and financial situation, she always changed the subject leaving them in the dark. Shortly after her death, the mortgage on the house went into default.  The siblings rummaged through boxes and file cabinets to locate important paperwork.  Who would have thought to look in a knitting bag where the auto insurance policy was found? Bernard writes “Had their mother been willing to talk more about her financial affairs, it would have saved them a lot of stress and frustration.”

When I read this story, I immediately thought of my 86-year old widowed mother. Last month we sat down to review her financial and household accounts.  While I have been busy fretting about my mom, though, I now wonder how devastated and confused our children would be if my husband and I were suddenly unable to communicate our own wishes and plans.  Giving them the names and numbers is a way to begin the conversation. Failing to prepare them and leaving them clueless about arrangements we have made would be a parenting mistake I wish to avoid. That bus could be heading my way.



  1. W.Williams says

    Great post, Mary Dell. Maybe it will give me the impetus I need to sort through my messy desk. If I don’t know where all of our documents are, how can I expect my kids to find them in a real emergency?

  2. happy outlook says

    Thank you for providing the road map and links for these important discussions.

  3. says

    great post Mary. There are six of us in my family and my mother has everything “in order” but tells each of us she told “someone”. we don’t push the issue because she gets testy, but we know what’s coming as she’s 82 and she’s a pack rat. maybe if I make use of Decide. Create. Share. she will too.

    • says

      It may be worth a try. The site is good – would be curious to see what you think about it. Good luck!

  4. says

    We’ve had this conversation with our parents to a degree, but not with our children because they are so young. But this makes me realized I should be having this conversation with my siblings whom my children would fall to if something happened to me and my husband. Thanks for the thought.

    • says

      Korinthia, it is so important to be on the same page with the guardians we have chosen for our children. It is a morbid topic, perhaps, but such an important one as we plan for the worse.

  5. says

    Thanks for writing about this. Such an important topic that so many of us procrastinate over!

    • says

      Sheryl, so easy to procrastinate – the forms on the site do make it a bit easier to get started.

  6. says

    My children are not old enough to have this talk yet but I appreciate the post. It is a reminder that we really can be prepared for the unexpected and we should prepare for those that we leave behind. It takes an already difficult situation and makes it a little easier to handle. In fact, I think I may have that talk with my parents!

    • says

      Cherise, good idea to talk to your parents. You can use this post as the reason why it you are bringing it up. Take a look at DCS, too, for some ideas that might help you and them.

  7. says

    When our youngest turned 18, we realized that our kids were old enough to decide who they’d want to live with, if anyone, after we were gone. That gave us the motivation to update our wills, remove the guardians, and add health care proxies, living wills, power of attorney designations, etc. We used this as the impetus to encourage my mom to update her paperwork as well, which she hadn’t done since before my dad had died, 15 years earlier.

    At the same time, we had health care proxies drawn up for both kids since they are considered adults by their college and all health care service providers. Most parents don’t realize that unless they are designated as their child’s health care proxy, they don’t have to be informed if their son or daughter is hospitalized while at college unless the student asks or if a next of a kin is needed.

    Now I’m going to check out that AARP site to make sure we have everything covered and remind our kids what we’ve taken care of. Thanks for a very informative post.

    • says

      Our youngest turns 18 in the fall and I understand exactly what you mean about using it as an opportunity to review and make changes. Thank you for outlining all the specifics of what you took care of. Good advice, too, to explore what parents need to work out with their 18+ children about health care proxies. Thanks, Anne.

  8. Carpool Goddess says

    You’ve inspired me to get ourselves in order and have this conversation. In the meantime, stay away from buses Mary Dell!

  9. says

    This is such very important information, Mary Dell. My parents had this “talk” with us years ago and I remember, at that time, thinking it was so premature and I, did, feel like such an adult to be having it. God bless them (and us) they are both still with us at 81 & 82 and as financials have changed, the trust has shifted, etc., they’ve updated us and kept us apprised. I’ve had the initial talk with my kids too – but things have changed and you’ve reminded me that I need to stay on top of that. Loved the site you linked to as well. Thank you so much for such good information.

    • says

      Time passes and situations change and it is so easy to forget what we decided decades ago. This has been a wake up call for me – glad you found it useful, Barb.


  1. […] the discussion, the one you will wish you had had if, God forbid, anything ever goes wrong.  Sure, you can tell them where the wills are and how you hope to see your possessions disbursed.  But this is not that talk.  This is the talk where you recognize that you are speaking to a […]