Talking about money is one of the last taboos in our society. People who willingly discuss their digestive issues or joint problems will invariably offer a huffy “that’s none of your business” when asked “How much do you make?” or “What’s your net worth?”
For many people, money is a matter of secrecy. Even as adults, many people have no idea how much their parents earn or have saved, nor have ever spoken to them of estate planning. When it comes to families, the taboo on money conversations can cause real difficulties. As a financial planner, I’ve found many families follow the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule.
There are several common reasons why the discussion on inheritance planning doesn’t take place.
It’s none of my/their business.
Parents have no obligation to disclose their finances and estate plan to their children; however, it’s unfair to both parties when a child is unknowingly named as an executor, a successor trustee or agent. If you are put in a position of authority in an estate document, it’s essential to closely examine the documents and disclose details of the assets on which you will make decisions. Start by asking your parents to provide financial statements and a listing of account holdings; if they’re unwilling, you may be better served by asking them to name someone else. As the parent, if you feel you can’t trust your child with this information today, then why would you feel you could trust them (as your executor, trustee or agent) tomorrow? In that case, it might be better to name a trust company instead.
I don’t want them to think I am greedy./They’ll take advantage of me.
A family with healthy boundaries around money probably hasn’t much to worry about. As a child, if you approach the topic from the standpoint of wanting to be fully prepared to carry out any duties bestowed upon you, I doubt your parents will believe anything other than your best intentions. For parents, preparing a child for an inheritance is not only a prudent thing to do but also an act of chesed, a loving-kindness.
It will ruin our relationship.
One of the strongest arguments against talking about money is that it will permanently harm a relationship.
Being the first to break the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule isn’t easy. Yet having the courage to start a money conversation can create a legacy for the whole family, which can ultimately lead to better estate plans, more trust and a stronger relationship.
Founder of Klein Financial Advisors Incorporated, Lauren Klein is a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®) Practitioner, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ (CDFA), and a NAPFA Registered Financial Advisor. Currently she serves on the Executive Board of the Jewish Federation and Family Services of Orange County, the American Jewish Committee, and on the Board of Directors of the Community Foundation of the JFOC. Lauren lives in Irvine, California.