Trust, transparency and triumph—the gift of your family’s future.
Written for EO by Susan Michel, founder and CEO of Glen Eagle.
Whether we have aging parents, adult children or both, we all should consider having an honest conversation about the future. If there’s one lesson I have learned from working with families over the years, it’s that elderly parents often regret that they didn’t start a dialogue with their adult children sooner. With 76 million American baby boomers moving into the retirement stage of their lives, there is a huge opportunity and need for families to start having these conversations today.
While these conversations cause all of us to come face to face with our own mortality and the possibility that health-related issues may result in a diminished capacity, the alternative—not having the discussion—can result in tension, misunderstandings and, ultimately, your wishes not being followed.
How Do You Begin?
One way to start these conversations is for parents to talk about their life journey. As parents, we often assume that our children know the struggles we went through earlier in our lives. However, children are often unaware of decisions we made or why we made certain choices. By starting this dialogue, it helps to builds up understanding. These conversations also provide an opportunity to discuss how the parents dealt with their own aging parents. This scenario allows parents and children to gently open up about what feels appropriate going forward depending on varying situations.
Fear of unwanted or unanticipated change can make people of any generation nervous. To quell any anxiety, it’s helpful to take a partnership approach with family members. Consider how they feel and guide them through the prospects of change. This is not just an issue for parents; it’s also an issue for children. For example, do family members have certain assumptions about what role they or others will play? If these issues are not addressed before a crisis, it can cause resentment among siblings or even tear a family apart.
The most successful families I have worked with focus on what I call “The Three T’s: Transparency, Trust and Triumph.”
When families build transparency and trust, they typically triumph over any obstacles that may arise when life changes or crises occur. Conversations typically start by taking small, non-threatening steps in discussing what the future can look like for both the parents and their adult children.
Here are four tips on how to create transparency and trust:
- Allay fears and maintain dignity. Adults who wish to help their elderly parents with their finances can start by offering to learn from them, and then gradually take care of regular bills on a monthly basis when necessary. Start the sentence with “Because,” as in “Because I believe you and I can work best together if we share the information,” or “Because it will give me more peace of mind if I can help in case of emergency.”
- Set aside sibling rivalry. Likewise, if parents are considering asking their adult children to serve as executors or trustees, they should think objectively about who has the personality to work well with the other siblings, and who has the maturity to take on the responsibility. It may not be the eldest who can “play well with others.”
- Assign roles early on. It’s best to have one executor, one health care proxy and one trustee in order to avoid gridlock in vital decisions that can involve a loved one’s care. Parents should discuss the team approach with all of their children and make sure that everyone is aware of their wishes and intentions. Encourage everyone (parents and children) to share their feelings. Take the opportunity to deal with any conflicts now. Later on, you may not be able to do anything about unresolved conflicts due to diminished capacity.
- Don’t assume children will carry on the family business. Your business and employees deserve the best-prepared and most committed leader they can have, so it’s never too soon to start envisioning a succession planning process. Preparing for the next generation of a family business is an entire topic in itself, but if a family business is involved, it is even more important to establish open communication early on. It’s key to preventing misunderstandings. It’s better to know the children’s interest or intentions upfront to avoid placing them under pressure to take on a role they do not want or are unprepared to fill.
In summary, it’s an incredible gift for parents and adult children to be part of the conversation when everyone can participate fully. By starting early, families have the chance to bridge misunderstandings, raise questions, and give people the chance to think about their answers over time.
Susan Michel is founder and CEO of Glen Eagle, an award-winning financial services firm based in Kingston, NJ. Offering both advisory and broker dealer services, Glen Eagle takes an educational, holistic approach to meeting its clients’ long-term goals. Susan is a member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization.