Gathering around the family table for the holidays can be a joyous time. Family members catching up. Mom and Dad enjoying their place of honor at the head of the table with the grandchildren all around. A flawless fresh turkey cooked to perfection with home grown vegetables complete the scene.
Soon, the ‘Hallmark’ moment is ruined by the adult child who announces after the ‘toast’, that Mom and Dad need to sit down and have ‘the talk’ about the rest of their lives. All is quiet, all is not calm. Everyone knows this needs to happen, but is now the right time, really?
However, the reality is that this talk does need to happen! According to Fidelity’s first ever ‘Intra-Family Generational Finance Study‘, 89% of families agree that health and elder care discussions are important. The study goes on to further say that “while more than nine in 10 (94 percent) adult children and their parents agree it is important to have frank conversations about wills and estate planning, eldercare or covering retirement expenses, there are significant barriers to even starting these discussions within families.”
In my upcoming book, ‘Having “The Talk” with Your Parents About Retirement’, I present some ‘starting points’ to begin these discussions. Many adult children have told me that they’ve used recent stories about their parents’ friends and family members as good launching points for this discussion. Bringing up “that story about cousin Ralphie who never put together a trust for his parents and now it’s too late as Aunt Hilda is going to a nursing home” or “my friend’s Mom regrets never looking into long term care insurance now that she sees that the bills for her husband are wiping out any inheritance that she can leave“, can help to begin a conversation and stress the need to have “the talk”.
I had a business friend who traveled to her hometown for a meeting. As this allowed her to visit her parents, she stopped by and spent a night at her old home. The parents were happy to see her and she casually and jokingly told them that she was “stopping by to check on her inheritance.” My friend tells me that as she was regretting saying that joke, her parents looked at each other and told her that “it’s funny that you mention that as your Mom and I want to discuss that very thing with you.” My friend told me that the trip was more valuable for the conversation that followed than the business results she achieved at her meeting.
Let’s face it. Most of us have these conversations. However, they’re often done too late. We end up having them when our parents are in situations that are difficult to change or they have diminished mental capacities. We have them after expectations have been made by family members as to who gets what and often the discussions result in broken relationships and siblings who no longer talk to each other.
Finding the right time to have these discussions is never easy and when we do, like my friend, we often stumble upon them (and those are the lucky ones). My belief that I explore and stress in my upcoming book, ‘Having “The Talk” with Your Parents About Retirement’ is that the best time to have these discussions is sooner, rather than later, and that the best time to have them is when your parents are newly retired or nearing retirement. The Fidelity study agrees with me on this point: “Parents are more likely to cite when they near or enter retirement (37 percent) as the right time, while children indicate that they’d like to have a conversation before their parents retire or have health issues (37 percent).”
The reality is that as life and finances are becoming more complex than ever, we find that more parents are willing to discuss their retirement and later stage of life with their children than ever before. The Fidelity study points out that “sixty-five percent of adult children and parents agree that discussing retirement readiness is an important topic.”
The wonderful part about all of this is that once you have ‘the talk’, there is a huge weight off of both the adult children and the parents’ shoulders. Anne Tergesen points out in her recent article (link below): “Not surprisingly, those who take the time to have these conversations tend to feel better. Fidelity said that 90% of the parents who have had such discussions with their adult children reported having “peace of mind.” Only 61% of parents who have not had this talk felt the same way.”
So this holiday season while you’re considering whether or not to have ‘the talk’ with your parents, I’d recommend that you commit to doing that. If you recognize the importance and value that having ‘the talk’ will bring and if you pay attention to the signals that will come up, you’ll soon find the path to having ‘the talk’. Maybe as a new year’s resolution (my book comes out in December) or if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll find just the right time while you’re with your parents during the holidays.
However, while sitting around the table for Thanksgiving, I’d recommend asking for the mashed potatoes rather than your parents’ financial records.