Talking to Children is Tough

Posted in: Articles by Doug | 0

“To talk to the children, or not to talk to the children?”

That is the question – asked by wealthy parents thinking about their estates.

In actuality, very few parents ever share their full estate plans with their children, though lawyers and trust professionals constantly write that ‘talking with children before death can avoid litigation, unnecessary expense and emotional pain’. Parents almost all intuitively believe they should tell children their wishes; but, it is just a very difficult discussion.

Have a “Family Meeting”.

Having a family meeting is hard. Often children live in different provinces or countries and are seldom all together. Some families, for all sorts of reasons, don’t get along and don’t want to talk. Even without problems; speaking to adult children about inheritances is often harder than ‘the sex talk’ when they were teenagers.

Some parents do have the “estate conversation”. The majority end unresolved at best and many open the ‘can of worms’ that causes nothing but problems. Several war stories have been told about sharing information ahead of time and about giving money to children early and watching them blow it. Etc. Everyone has stories…

Why is it so difficult to address inter-generational money issues?

Parents and children have history which creates expectations and pre-conceptions. Money is a very emotional subject. I believe that the biggest hurdle to overcome is that everyone in the family is starting from a different mindset, which makes it difficult to get off to a clean start on something so emotionally charged and important.

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To summarize what I am saying: Wealthy parents know that they have to educate their children on their planning before it is too late, but even having a discussion about estate planning is so difficult to bring up and hard to keep positive that very few families ever have that talk.

There is an easy fix.

- The parents don’t lead the meeting. The family hires someone.

It takes a neutral 3rd person to make it work. So just hire a Family Unity Coach or ‘Family Estate Meeting Facilitator’. Then parents and children are all participants, not leaders. Everyone has the same experience because the facilitator is in control and not the parents or dominant child. For possibly the first time, everyone in the room is on an equal footing. This is the dynamic needed to be successful because it leads to true adult to adult communication instead of parent to child.

This is not to say that just having someone else in the room is going to change everything. The coach had better know what they are doing. Meetings need to be on neutral ground (for example), not in the lawyer’s boardroom where children feel intimidated or in the family home either. The agenda is set and distributed, and there is a clear goal. The family is working toward creating a long term, fully vetted and transparent family estate plan.

Two other points on this subject:

  1. This is not new. Shakespeare’s King Lear type family problems have always existed around wealthy estates. The bigger the estate, the bigger the problem. The “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” saying is in almost every culture dating back to ancient times.
  2. The successful multi-generation families all meet regularly, and any family that wants to stay united and strong must add this tradition in their family. It has to become a never miss tradition.

In conclusion

Wealthy families are encouraged to seek out tradespeople who specialize in bringing families together to have meaningful and serious discussions. Not having “the estate conversation” is a horrible decision that can destroy a family and its financial resources after the parents die. The parents must get their adult children involved in the planning to avoid family feuds later.