Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, but it’s sure not a path to a positive legacy

Don’t avoid these uncomfortable discussions. It may be weird, but...

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Have you ever thought about broaching with your parents or adult children the subject of what you want to have happen to you and your money should you get hit by the proverbial bus? Oh, and while you’re at it, have you thought about having your fingernails pulled out one at a time?

For most of us, these two prospects are about equally undesirable. The idea of talking to our parents/kids about money makes most people highly uncomfortable; there’s something strangely taboo about talking to family members about our personal finances. This doesn’t include holiday prognostication on the stock market with Uncle Charlie over vast quantities of Merlot but definitely applies to a hard-core conversation about how and why the beneficiaries are set up as they are on your 401(k) plan at work and how your estate planning documents are intended to work.

Usually, we just don’t talk about it, unless some situation absolutely necessitates the discussion. While ignoring this issue may prevent discomfort now, avoidance will eventually cause problems more severe than conversational awkwardness. Almost everyone knows this at some level, so why do we persist in refusing to address the financial arrangements that will inevitably be apparent anyway?

I find in my financial planning practice that sometimes there’s embarrassment and shame that the second generation did better than the first (which is all the first ever wanted, by the way). We get caught up with how our kids/parents perceive us, and therefore talking about it openly is taboo. Like every good Southern family, we live by the rule of “why talk about something awkward if you don’t have to?”

In fact, there are many people who actually do complete an estate plan (will/revocable living trust, powers of attorney and advanced directive), but have never spoken to the beneficiaries or the named executor about it.

And then, SURPRISE! Dad suddenly dies… and you are amidst a family crisis, shock and grief and are suddenly in charge of playing referee with dad’s assets. Now you discover that his second wife gets all of the retirement plan money and life insurance monies and that you and your siblings get the house that wife is still living in. How do you go about evicting her and all of the other fun action items that you need to tackle — while grieving, no less?

When I have clients anticipate the post-death conversation it usually goes something like this:

Soon to be dead/disabled dad: “Why do I care? I’m dead!”

Kid in charge of everything for the family: “Why didn’t Dad take care of this?”

Me/other advisor/attorney: “I talked to him consistently about it and a [lie by omission on what dad’s position really was].” (At this point guilt ensues, since I wasn’t able to make a strong enough compelling argument to get dad to do it.)

So if you’re figuring avoiding the subject will make for a smooth process, good luck with that and with the emotional legacy you are leaving.

Instead of having an arbitrary conversation with your parents or children, I suggest holding a formal family meeting every two years. Four key strategies can make it simple and effective:

  • Position it around the holidays so that all relevant family members can be there.
  • Create an agenda and focus primarily on the logistics of how things will work rather than dollar amounts; e.g. the retirement accounts and the house are going to my wife, while the life insurance policies are going to you and your sister.
  • Make sure all major players — executor, trustee, power of attorney, etc. — understand their role and are willing to fulfill it.
  • Make sure everyone knows who all the major players are so that there’s no confusion or surprise later.

This clarity prevents a lot of long-lived emotional heartaches for family members at the time of a death or disability as well as for the rest of their lives. You don’t want your kids to always think about the fact that dad never made documents or verbally told us what he wanted, or that they opted for the blue cremation box because he liked blue, but wonder what he would have really chosen.

Don’t avoid these uncomfortable discussions. It may be weird, but you and your family will be happy you had these meetings now and for many years in the future.

Meredith Moore is a 20-year veteran of the financial advisory industry who specializes in bringing a customized approach to support the highly personal dynamics that govern her clients’ relationship with money and success. She is the recipient of numerous industry awards and a noted speaker and writer focusing on the intersection of power, money, and gender within relationships. Ms. Moore can be reached at

Meredith C. Moore of Moore and Artisan Financial Strategies, 1125 Cambridge Square, Suite C, Alpharetta, GA 30009 (770) 587-0281.Learn how to take control of your financial life and discover what makes women’s financial planning needs such a unique challenge with our free, white paper:

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