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Having “The Talk”

December 9, 2019
Take a moment and pretend your older sister and her husband pass away unexpectedly, leaving their three young children behind. You are called into their lawyer’s office immediately. You learn that you and your husband were named guardians of your three nieces and the family dog. You’ve also been designated as full beneficiaries of your sister’s estate. While you love your nieces, your life just changed in the blink of an eye. You went from being a professional, childless, young couple in a condo to a five-person family with a dog and a two-story home. Situations like this don’t just happen in movies—they happen to people in real life, and not as infrequently as you might think. Now imagine you are the parents of those three children. What if your younger sister and her husband weren’t able (or willing) to care for your children? What if they decided to pass guardianship on to the next person; or worse, what if the children had to go live in foster care? Or what if your sister and her husband accept guardianship of your children, but move them into that condo in the city? Is that what you would have wanted? These conversations are absolutely critical if you have dependents, no matter how young and healthy you are. Say you don’t have dependents. Does that mean you don’t need an estate plan, or don’t need to talk about your plans with your family? It doesn’t. Take another example: Bill and Connie have two adult children who both have families of their own. When Bill and Connie sat down to create their estate plan, they realized that their two largest assets were their home and their life insurance policy. They weren’t sure how they should allocate between their two children, so they all sat down to talk about it. Their daughter was very connected to their home and it was important to her to keep it in the family. On the other hand, their son already had a home with his family and would have preferred to receive the cash benefit from the life insurance policy. So Bill and Connie left their home to their daughter and the life insurance policy to their son. In many families, finances and estate talk are taboo. Other families laugh and make jokes about inheritances. No matter what kinds of family dynamics exist in your life, talking about what will happen after a person dies can be painful and scary, but necessary. It’s important to talk with your loved ones about what you want, what they want, and what is laid out in your will.

Keep It Light

Having this discussion can bring up a lot of emotions for your loved ones; thinking about losing someone you love so dearly is painful. So keeping the conversation light but to the point can help keep it on track and productive. There may also be tensions that arise through the process — maybe multiple people want the same thing, or someone gets offended by how you’ve decided to split your money. You might consider having conversations with people individually to avoid upset.

Talk Openly and Honestly

A decision you have made may hurt someone’s feelings. There may be things you don’t want to tell people about, but it is crucial to be open and honest with your beneficiaries. For example, if you have an adult child who does not handle money well or has exhibited reckless behavior, you may feel it is appropriate to have a trust in place for that child. Both the beneficiary and the trustee should be aware of the situation. If you have children from more than one marriage, being open and honest with all of them is especially crucial.

Discuss Values, Not Just Valuables

When you die, how do you want people to remember you? What traditions, values, family names, rituals, religious beliefs do you want to live on? This is an important matter to bring up during discussions with your family. Think back on times that meant a great deal to your family or traditions that have brought joy. Talk about these things with your family to share how you feel and to learn how they feel.

Have a Professional Present

Having a neutral party present, such as an estate planner or a qualified financial planner can be helpful, and in some cases, necessary. Utilize these important resources available to you, and allow them to answer questions your loved ones may have. You might have a family-only conversation first and then a second conversation with your family and the estate planning and financial planning professionals. Like any important discussion, this may be difficult. Our 2nd podcast episode, The Talk, goes in- depth about this important topic. Our podcast is available on our website’s Knowledge Center and wherever you may listen.


Copyright © 2019 This article is published in its original form from its original publication with Investment Answers and Integrated Concepts, a separate, non-affiliated business entity. The original newsletter publication, Investment Answers Financial Success Fall 2019, is intended to offer factual and up-to-date information on the subjects discussed but should not be regarded as a complete, evolving, or personalized analysis of the topics, and should not be construed as personalized investment advice. Qualified financial professionals should be consulted before implementing a personalized financial plan. Please reference the original publication for additional disclaimers.