"Money and Mortality - Conversations That Matter "
by Ronald C. Reece, Ph.D.

Families, families, families! In every family there are weirdo's, knaves and heroes. Go back several generations and you may find the horse thieves. Maybe you don't have to go back too far. However, families are unique and families are very much alike. One way they are alike is that every family is a business. Thinking of your family as a business means that estate planning is an important part of your business activities. It is an incredibly important part of your family needs.

Families are made up of individuals and individuals make estate planning decisions. Decisions to act or avoid, non-decisions, which create no action in estate planning are both made largely on an emotional basis. Matters of the heart quite often drive our decisions about what we will do with our money.

In every person's life, there are two major events - birth and death. That's pretty obvious. Births are most often celebrated but death still remains the great unknown. From birth we all move through developmental stages…childhood, adolescence, young adulthood. adulthood and old age. Along the way we are successful, unsuccessful, happy, unhappy, involved, uninvolved. As we grow and develop, if you cut down through the layers of actions and feelings to the motivations that drive us, there are two primary ones - fear and desire. Or we could say pain and pleasure. Of course, we also know the significance of love and work. Each of these motivators will impact our efforts at estate planning.

Also of importance are the concepts of "my" and "mine." Things belong to us and become extensions of who we are. Objects have emotional meaning. For example, a wooden chest or piece of jewelry that belonged to your grandmother.

Money represents many things to us. It represents freedom, control, victory, love and even immortality. In our culture, drive and effort, along with economic return for that effort, are highly valued. However, there is still a taboo about money. We aren't supposed to talk about it and we often don't.

What else might impact estate planning and conversations that matter? Values! For example, the values of a person from the Depression Era are different from the baby boomers' values and we often make judgments about each other based on these.

So, if all these social and psychological factors: significant births, the unknown of death, motivations in life, attachment to possessions, the power and taboo of money and personal values, come to bear as we begin to think about or deal with estate planning, no wonder many people just never do it or they do it in secrecy.

Don't let yourself be one of them! Take the first step by having conversations that matter - intergenerational dialogue. Pick the right time and place, make simple comments or questions, then listen. Initiating the conversation is half the battle. Whether you need to talk to parents, spouse, siblings, or your children, you need to begin with a conversation with yourself. Ask yourself, what are my objectives? Am I greedy or am I a steward? What do my family members need or want? How open am I willing to be? What am I likely to be most anxious or concerned about in this conversation? What leverage do I have if there is resistance?

If the focus is on your parents, the second conversation needs to be with your siblings, if you have them. Working together to approach parents, you will be more successful and can likely avoid the jealousies that may develop otherwise. Thirdly, talk to your advisors about strategies for approaching your parents, strategies for financial management and for minimizing your taxes.

Now you are ready to approach your parents. If your communication lines are fairly good, you can simply begin with, "Can we talk?" More indirectly you might ask, "I'm thinking of rewriting my Will. Can you give me some suggestions?" Or, "Do you remember how difficult things were when Uncle Harry died without an estate plan?"

If you are dealing with your immediate family, the sequence is self, spouse, advisors and children. Also, expect to have several conversations in the cycle - just one will never be enough. Of course, speaking with advisors anywhere in the cycle is a good idea.

These conversations and intergenerational planning are the best insurance against future controversy. Remember in real estate it may be "Location, Location, Location," but in estate planning it's "Communication, Communication, Communication."

© Reece & Associates, P.A.