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.”
How to Start?
This month, AARP launched a new website, Decide.Create.Share.
Written for midlife women, Decide.Create.Share. is a comprehensive resource and template for long-term planning. The basic goal of DCS is to help each of us decide on what we want and need for the future, create a plan to help us achieve these goals, and learn to share our plans with important people in our lives. A 40 Day Pledge included on the site provided motivation and structure for me to review the plans my husband and I already have in place and think through the information we want to impart to our nearly grown kids, now 17 and 22.
I signed the pledge and have begun to answer each prompt. DCS is easy to navigate with state-specific details and checklists. My personal favorite is the three-page “Valuable Documents at Your Fingertips.” Like the long-ago intricate instructions and contact names we left babysitters, this serves much the same purpose for our now, grown-up babies.
In one spot I have collected contact information for doctors, lawyers, accountants, banks and people to alert in case of emergencies. Financial, medical, and insurance information is included along with personal data (locations for social security numbers, birth and marriage certificates.) Finally, though I would rather remain in denial about it, there is a section for our final wishes.
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.
I am a member of AARP’s Decide.Create.Share kitchen cabinet on long-term planning. All opinions are my own.