TALKING ABOUT MONEY
Money. We agonize over how to stretch it, invest it, spend it, or give it away. And the older we get, the more we hate to talk about it. Especially with our adult kids.
Seniors with little money don’t want to burden their children. Members of the WWII generation — who value their self-sufficiency and independence — may especially resist these conversations. In these “traditional” families dad was the breadwinner, and mom raised the children. Once they were their children’s safety net. This role reversal hurts. They may feel ashamed and disappointed to ask for help.
Middle-class elders – good pensions, some investments, and long-term care insurance – may fret about how to bequeath their money. The questions for them: “What do our kids expect?” and “What’s fair?” These decisions can be equally tough.
Take a couple with three adult children: One is a successful engineer happily married to a lawyer with a big firm, two kids, and plenty of money. Another is a struggling actor. (The parents are paying his rent while he tries to get the ‘big break.’) The third is a divorced daughter with two children, a decent job, but living on the edge. They just paid her car repair bill so she could get to work.
What’s fair? Should parents give by need or in equal amounts? If by need, will the child who receives less feel less loved and valued? Is a will the place to reward a child who has been especially attentive to an aging parent? Or to express disapproval of one who made choices the parent didn’t like?
Wealthy families may have other issues: If they make generous gifts to their university or other charities, will the children be shocked? Resentful? Who should be named as Executor? Or as trustee of a trust? How strict or lenient should be the provisions of a trust? These questions become more crucial if the children are not friendly to each other. A will challenge can swallow the assets so fast that there’s nothing left but a residue of bitterness.
David Solie’s advice (How to Say it to Seniors): It’s easier to find good answers if we stop thinking of money as a “thing” to be accumulated and divided, and start seeing it as a means to express our values and the meaning of our lives.
The important thing for parents is to swallow your fear or pride and tell your kids (individually or all together) what you’re thinking. Answer their questions. Ask what they think is fair, and seriously consider their answers. Let them know you love them.
We welcome your views on this very sensitive topic!