So often people are told to focus on the financial and administrative pieces of what they want to pass down to their children. Of course, a written estate plan is an essential part of everyone’s long-term planning package; documents do have their place.
Conversations, however, often carry much more heft within the family dynamic. The principles and wisdom parents have developed during their lifetimes, when spoken, have the power to be more valuable to their children than any formal recitation.
I want to talk about what I’ve found to be a meaningful, authentic and genuine way for parents to communicate their particular values, wishes and vision for the family to their kids and grandkids.
I call this dialogue The Family Conversation, and it is incredibly powerful.
Let me tell you a story. Recently, I met with two parents and their adult son and daughter to facilitate this type of conversation. While we took the opportunity to explain why the son had been chosen to act as agent under the couple’s Financial Power of Attorney, and why the daughter had been chosen to act as agent under the Advance Directive for Healthcare, so much more was discussed. The conversation touched on topics that weren’t included in the planning documents, and other things that had nothing to do with the couple’s estate plan.
It was an intensely intimate experience. The mood was upbeat, not somber. Everyone shared in reminiscing and retelling favorite stories of time spent together. In one particularly moving exchange, the father asked his son if he remembered a particular fishing trip they had taken together. His son replied, “I think of that trip and that moment all the time. It was perfect.”
Sure, there was a dialogue about what the parents wanted should one of them fall ill, and there was a discussion about why they chose to allocate their assets as they did in their will. But this wasn’t the point of the meeting.
These parents were giving their children a gift in this meeting. They had created a forum where they authentically and intimately shared their long-term wishes, as opposed to simply relying on the documents to speak for them. As the conversation grew and expanded, the parents created the space for their children to ask questions about their current financial situation, thus allowing them the peace of mind that they wouldn’t need to step in to take financial care of their parents in the event of illness.
It was an intimate, informative and assuring conversation for this family to have. And I believe it’s important for every family to have a similar conversation.
During The Family Conversation, both mom and dad have the opportunity to honestly express what is important to them and what they hope for generations to come. It is a conversation that moves beyond planning and gets to the heart of their wishes for their family, for generations to come.
Some things that parents may want to express, but aren’t sure how can flow easily during these conversations once they get started. They can both discuss what they want their beneficiaries to do with their bequests. Perhaps they want their children to be frugal and responsible, as they have been. They may wish to reiterate their commitment to education, and let their children know that they want them or their grandchildren to go to good schools. No matter the vision or values mom and dad wish to express, no method of communication is better than saying their wishes out loud.
Of course, there will be the nuts-and-bolts portion of the conversation, where the estate plan is explained. While this piece is more of a recitation of facts, assets, and plans, it provides a chance for mom and dad to explain why they made these choices. This can offer so much clarity and ease to everyone in the family. No one is left wondering, for example, exactly how their parents want to be cared for, and who will finance that care. Adult children or grandchildren know because they were told, face-to-face.
And the trips down memory lane that inevitably accompany these talks serve to celebrate all the love shared by the people in the room.
The Family Conversation is a beautiful tool. Consider having it with your loved ones. I’ve seen such talks generate intimacy, bonding, and joy, all of which strengthen families and leave everyone feeling greater peace and ease.