You may have heard a similar story before:

“Our parents had a lot of assets and resources before they died. We knew they had money – we just did not know how much. And they would not talk about it. We assumed (and certainly hoped) they had a plan in place to distribute those resources to their children and others. However, what occurred after they died was a nightmare. The children fought. Lawyers got involved. Some money eventually got distributed to each child. But we haven’t spoken since.”

This story is tragic. And sadly, we see this often in our work as financial planners. However, we have also seen plans executed beautifully by parents and grandparents. We would like to share some ideas on how to get this process started.

It Starts with a Conversation

Fear. It drives so many (and too many) of our decisions. “What if this happens?” What if that happens?”

I know. It’s difficult. Initiating a conversation with loved ones about end of life planning and wishes can be quite touchy. “You just want money!”, they might say. But if there is a healthy relationship, and communication is done in a loving way, you most likely will not hear those words.

Ideally, your parents (or grandparents) would come to you and want to have these conversations. But they could have many of the same fears. Maybe this mode of communication was not modeled to them by their parents. Therefore, they don’t know how to get this conversation started.

These are certainly some realities. But doing nothing out of fear is not wise.

Some Helpful Language

We came up with a conversation starter that might be helpful in initiating this conversation with loved ones.

“[Name], we (or I) would like to talk with you about some very important matters. Our motive for initiating this conversation is out of love, care and concern for you. We want to do everything we can to carry out your wishes as it relates to end of life matters, or in the event one of you were living but were unable to make and carry out financial decisions.

Do you have specific desires and wishes as it relates to these matters? And have you properly executed the documents necessary to help carry out these wishes? If not, we are ready to assist however we can to get all of these necessary items in place. Are you willing to discuss these matters with us?”

A great resource could be the book Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler. (In full disclosure, I have not personally read this book but know others who have. In addition, Stephen Covey writes the Forward for this book which is a tremendous endorsement.)

Use a Facilitator

Perhaps you have already tried to initiate these conversations but were unsuccessful. We encourage you to not give up. Increase or use other resources available to you. We have had the hard task but privilege in helping facilitate these conversations. If not a financial planner, perhaps an attorney, pastor or trusted mutual friend could help.

In Closing

We have had many meetings with clients around these matters. We strongly encourage our clients to have these hard but necessary conversations with loved ones, whether it is about their own plans or others. We can tell you that more times than not our clients are very glad they took these steps. What generally follows are properly executed plans and strengthened relationships. However, we are acutely aware that these conversations don’t always go as planned. It’s okay though. 

Boundaries – You faced the fears. Some uncertainty was addressed. You can’t control the actions of others. But you can now better plan for yourself and your loved ones.

If we can assist in any way, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. We are glad to be a resource.

*For financial planning clients of Rivertree Financial Planning: Please contact us as soon as possible if you have had any changes in circumstances, objectives, goals or risk tolerance.