It takes guts to start – and sometimes to stick with – a tough conversation. We’re afraid of triggering anger or hurt. Or being misunderstood. But some conversations are necessary.
Let’s say I’m wondering whether Mom and Dad have a will. And who’s the Executor? And who is getting what? Here’s the parade of horribles that might be going through my head:
My parents might think I want them to hurry up and die.
They might think I’m greedy.
They might think I’m trying to curry favor over my sister to get more than she does.
They might think I’m trying to trying to control what they do with their own money, as if it’s already mine.
They might think it’s none of my business. And say so!
On the other hand, what if I’m the parent and I want to talk about my plans and last wishes? I hesitate to bring it up for fear the kids might think:
I have a secret fatal illness or am morbidly depressed.
I don’t want to defend my desire to leave a large gift to a charity I care deeply about. Or to help a friend’s child with college, or reward someone who has been kind to my family.
I may want to leave more to a child with greater needs than one who has a well-paying career, even though I love them equally. But I’m afraid that will cause bad feelings between the kids.
If I have a lot of money I don’t want to stifle their own initiative.
If I have a lot of debt they don’t know about, I may feel ashamed.
Here’s a suggestion for getting over this first blast of fear. Start with something easy. An adult child might say, “I’ve been thinking about making a will, and I realized I don’t know whether you have one.”
Or the parent might begin by mentioning an article they read or a remark a friend made about wills and trusts.
Start casually and see where the conversation leads. If you sense push-back, drop the topic and try again in a few weeks.
In healthy, loving families it’s good to be as transparent as your comfort level allows. Ideally, kids should have a good idea of their parents’ finances and last wishes and be committed to carrying them out. But, for some of the reasons mentioned – and many others, such as a family secret or a dominating in-law or an addicted family member – discretion may override complete transparency.
But there is a bottom line: Every mature adult should have a lawyer-drafted testamentary plan such as a will or trust. Parents should at least tell their children what it is, where it is, how to access it when needed, and the name of the executor or trustee (which may be a child, an attorney, or a trusted friend willing to accept the responsibility).
This is one conversation you really have to have.