Family Planning

In the time-honored tradition of building off the conversations I’m having with all of you, this week let’s talk about families and financial planning. A few years ago, I came across a financial literacy study that showed parents were more likely to talk with their kids about the birds & the bees (an interesting euphemism if there ever was one…) than they were about money matters. Since we know that there are great big swaths of the population who would rather chop off a finger or toe before talking about sex, that doesn’t bode well for talking about finances.  In a relatively short period of time, I spoke with two clients who were worried about their kids’ fiscal situation and one who was in the throes of dealing with a parent and money issues. In at least one of these cases, things are going to get painful and that pain could have been alleviated if there had been money conversations earlier in the relationship.

You could say that there’s nothing like a good ‘ole holiday to bring out the things we’ve been trying to hide so throw open the proverbial windows and call a family meeting. If the planning we’ve done is going to be of any value, we have to know what kind of pressures it can carry. What’s the saying… test something to the point of breaking to know how strong it is. If we need to clarify how parents are doing, consider opening the conversation with something like “Mom, Jack & I are doing some planning to better understand our future and we’re wondering how you are doing financially? If there is anything we should consider in our plan to make sure you are OK for the rest of your life?” Chances are, this is going to take a couple of tries since the Mom & Dad generation REALLY didn’t talk about money, but it is important to pick at that scab until you have some answers. I have, unfortunately, seen some pretty solid planning blown right out the window when a parent wasn’t as financially stable as we thought.

Talking with kids, no matter what age, is another matter completely. Given the current financial environment, let’s focus on adult children – a solid strategy is to ask who the kids’ financial advisor is so your financial advisor has the contact name in case something happens. In most cases, there is no financial advisor for the kids and presto, you have an opening. Try to ask some probing questions to see how they are weathering their current situation (if they haven’t shared already): How are things going on the job front? Are they going to be OK if we enter a downturn or recession? If there are grandkids, perhaps there is something you could do to help that doesn’t feel like help if that feels safer for now. You could also take a more hands-off approach and gift each of your kids some time with a financial advisor (there are hourly advisors all over the country) so you aren’t in the initial layer of the conversation.

Now, I grew up in a family where conversations about money were fairly common (dad worked at a bank and mom was a bookkeeper – it’s in our blood…) so it was a long time before I realized that this wasn’t the family norm. After years in this business, I get that these conversations are painful, bordering on torturous, for other families. NOT having these conversations though can ratchet up this pain level and make situations downright financially dangerous. So, if you are seeing family during this holiday season (at home, by FaceTime, or with restaurant reservations), please try to pepper your conversation with a few probing questions. I absolutely promise you, in fact, I’ll go out on a legal limb and say “guarantee” (and you all know I don’t take that word lightly), I guarantee the conversation won’t kill you. And if it all goes horribly pear-shaped, I know some good therapists…

All my best to all of you and your families.