Family Financial Planning: It’s Always a Good Time to “Have the Talk”

“Son, we need to talk.”

As I sent my son off to college last week, I could hear his sigh of relief that he wouldn’t have to hear me or his mom again say to him, “Son, we need to talk.”

At least for awhile.

For him college was a time to claim his own identity. Stake out his own future. He was moving on and quite honestly, when kids hit their later teens, they don’t hear what you have to say to them anyway.

However, we do it anyway. So as much as I didn’t feel he heard everything I said, I know that my son is now equipped with a banking relationship, a method for budgeting, a plan for saving and the ability to use a credit card.

All because we sat him down and talked to him about how to handle his finances now that he was becoming more independent and separate from us and our daily monitoring of his situation.

This “talk” that we had with our child was the one about teaching him to handle money, savings and budgets. It’s laying the groundwork for your child to deal with all of the “adult” things that you’ve had to deal with – investing for retirement, meeting a weekly budget, understanding where to put your money, what’s the deal with asset allocation, etc.

I think about this and chuckle at the reality that one day, my son will turn to us and say, “Mom, Dad, we need to talk.”

You see, “the talk” is not just associated with parents to their teen children, but there’s also “the talk” that needs to occur in one’s later years between adult children and their parents.

For those of us caught in the “sandwich generation,” we’ll often turn from having the “the talk” with our children to then having “the talk” with our parents, whose concerns in their later years have become more complex than they, or you ever imagined they would be.

That “talk” addresses the concerns of medical proxies, trusts, healthcare and estate planning, wills and the fact that 70% of people over the age of 65 will require some form of long-term care.

However, how many of us are actually having that “talk” with our parents?

A recent American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) survey found that two-thirds of adult children have never talked about these matters with their parents.

According to the findings in a recent Fidelity Investments study not only do adult children and their parents struggle to communicate about vital issues such as long-term care, inheritances and overall retirement plans, but the reality is that adult children are not only concerned about their own finances, but the financial futures and later life issues of their parents as well.

The reality is that not having “the talk” will lead to frictions in families as expectations for responsibilities and inheritances are often different from what was outlined by parents who pass away without discussing them. That’s if the parents have even taken the initiative to outline their wishes.  Often, their adult children are struggling to understand what to do with estates when parents pass away without a clear-cut plan.

The problem is not only one that happens when parents pass on. It’s often a larger issue when there are no plans for long-term care in place, and their adult children are struggling to assist and help in these instances which often puts financial and emotional strain on them, and others around them.

Or estates and assets are being left in limbo, headed to probate or at the mercy of the tax man because effective estate plans had not been discussed and put into place.

Having “the talk” is so important in today’s world as we’re living in a time of rising healthcare costs and the largest wealth transfer in history.

According to sociologist Paul G. Schervish of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, the transfer of wealth to the baby boom generation is proceeding at a record level with more than $1 Trillion estimated to be transferred every year for the next 40 years.

This transfer of wealth from one generation to the next requires a clear estate transition plan. If  “the talk” has not occurred between adult children and their parents, either the plan hasn’t been put into place or expectations may not match what was put into place and this will create fractures in families that often never heal.

According to a Williams Group study examining the long-term effects of wealth transfers in 3,250 families, “70% of intergenerational wealth transfers fail.” According to the study, “failure means situations where the heirs dissipated wealth, often with the family assets becoming a source of friction and dispute.”

According to Lisa Kurtz Keylon who is an attorney specializing in wealth transfers between families, the study shows that “poor family transition planning usually causes these failures” and that “the report suggests that at the center of all successful wealth transfers is open and honest communication between family members.”

Whether it’s National Financial Planning week, the holidays or you just find yourself sitting with your parent at lunch, it’s always the right time to begin “the talk”. I believe that having “the talk” sooner, rather than later is the best method.

I recommend that families have “the talk” near the time of their parents’ retirement. This can occur in the years prior to retirement, or in the early years of their retirement. These are often the best years for planning when mental and emotional clarity is at its peak for those retiring, and outlining these matters at this early stage can provide “peace for mind” for all family members.

It’s a more preferable time than when tragedy or illness strikes in one’s later years when making changes and modifications to trusts or wills become very difficult. I’m sure that most people reading this article have a story of this occurring in their family or those of friends’ families that understands the trouble that not having “the talk” causes.

The good news is that people want “the talk” to occur.

Fidelity Investments conducted a study specifically focused on the financial concerns of the “Intra-Family Generations” and found that nearly 9 out of 10 people surveyed felt that there’s a need and desire to speak about health and eldercare between the generations. This is echoed in the additional finding that over 90% of adult children and their parents agree that having “frank conversations” about later life issues such as wills, estate planning, eldercare and overall retirement planning is also important.

Whether it’s retirement or another time that you have “the talk,” the important thing is to have it!

It usually doesn’t occur in a single sit down. It usually doesn’t happen at the table at Thanksgiving (although I have heard interesting stories of this occurring). It’s not something that must be initiated by an adult child or a parent; either party can start it.

Among the discussion points that should be considered are the following:

  • Do you have a “will” and have you considered trusts and estate planning?
  • Are all of the beneficiaries updated on all of the IRAs and insurance policies?
  • What plans have you made for long-term care?
  • Is a living will in place?
  • What do you plan to do in retirement?

At some point in the future, I hope that my son may heed my advice and ultimately reach out to his mom and me and say, “Mom, Dad, we need to talk.”

I’ll make sure that I listen to him.

Have you had “the talk” with your family? When is the best time to address financial planning with your children and parents?

Other Articles You Might Like:

The Sandwich Generation: Caregiving for a Multi-Generational Family

The Importance of Discussing Finances With Your Family

What We Learned: The Finances of the Sandwich Generation TweetChat

Facts of Life – Financial Literacy for College Students


This blog post was contributed by Jack Tatar for Ally Bank’s Straight Talk blog. Jack is known as “America’s Safe Retirement Coach” and is the author of “Safe 4 Retirement: The Four Keys to a Safe Retirement” and “Having the Talk“. He is a columnist for and his website is at

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