By Mitch Adel, Senior Partner, Cooper Adel & Associates
If you are responsible for taking care of both your parents and your adult children, you are part of the “sandwich generation.” It’s likely that you face financial pressures from both ends of the family spectrum. Needless to say, this kind of multigenerational dynamic can create a difficult situation for everyone involved.
In these complex social and financial circumstances, creating a sound and strategic estate and financial plan can be an enormous help. The first step toward drafting that plan is sitting down to have an open and productive conversation with your loved ones, both young and old. Unfortunately, what sounds simple in theory can often be much more difficult in practice. Conversations about money are never easy, and the emotions and connections present in every family can make the idea of sitting down to talk about finances even more of a daunting proposition. Here are some tips and key priorities to consider in discussing money matters with your parents and children.
Clear communication is key
Everyone must understand the family’s financial realities in order to see the whole picture and make the right choices. You may find that your parents and your children find it difficult to move away from well-established roles that have been developed over time: your parents may have a tendency to talk down to you or they may not be completely honest about financial matters. On the other hand, your children may be stubborn and see you as out of touch or controlling. To help break down those ingrained behaviors, it might be helpful in some cases to sit down with a neutral third party, such as an elder law attorney, to talk through finances and review your options.
Position yourself as a helper, not a dictator: strive to be the person that connects both generations with the expert financial and legal help they need, not the one who tries to guilt them into doing the “right thing.” That kind of approach can help you become a resource rather than a burden, and can help your parents and children view you as being on their side. Suggesting, rather than lecturing, and avoiding condescension and paternalism is also important. Be honest and direct, but try to avoid scare tactics and instead focus on delivering information in a way that will resonate. You will find that both older parents and adult children are more likely to be receptive if you are positive and constructive.
Have some perspective
Make an effort to understand where your parents’ point of view. Studies have found vast discrepancies between parental perceptions of their money needs (most are confident they will be fine on their own) and the perceptions of their adult children who are far more likely to believe that their parents will require financial assistance. Remember that a true conversation goes both ways, and that it is critically important that you listen to your loved ones and not just scold them or deliver a speech. It can be helpful to start small, suggesting modest changes or minor financial or lifestyle adjustments that are less likely to feel like an upheaval and are subsequently more likely to be embraced.
Tailor your message
Tailoring your message is essential. For your parents: help them ensure that all of their ducks are in a row—taking advantage of specialized professionals to help with age-specific concerns such as estate and long-term care planning—and reassure them that you are available if they want to work things through. For your kids: help them to understand that you want to help, but that you need to do so in a way that ensures you are not jeopardizing your own financial security. Incentives (provided that you can communicate them in a way that does not come across as patronizing) are an effective way to structure any financial engagement with your children, and can help to take both conversations and contributions away from a subjective setting and toward a more concrete and well-defined setup. Most important of all, whether you are talking to your aging parents or your adult children, is to make sure that they know that you care about them and their wellbeing, and that the ultimate goal of your conversation about money is not to diminish, blame or embarrass—but to safeguard the financial security of every member of the family.
Mitch Adel is senior partner at Cooper, Adel and Associates, A Legal Professional Association. With offices in Centerburg, Monroe, Sidney and Wilmington, Ohio, Cooper, Adel & Associates has clients statewide and offers regular seminars to educate seniors on critical legal and financial issues. For more information, visit www.CooperAndAdel.com..