Whether you are a Baby Boomer or the child of one, it is about time you faced the music. We all know that life ends, no matter how hard we try to ignore it. Having a family meeting before it is too late may save all of you needless heartache and financial turmoil.
Today, we are in the midst of an enormous transfer of wealth within America. Trillions of dollars of assets are passing from one generation to another and will continue to do so over the next couple of years. And whenever large amounts of money are involved, there is a need for knowledge, advice and estate planning. You can't do that if you or your family is in the dark when it comes to family finances.
Most experts will tell you that a family meeting is the best way to address this elephant in the room. It is a meeting where all the players come together — outside professionals (financial advisor, lawyer or accountant), parents and children. It should not be a 'spur of the moment' event, nor scheduled around a traditional family get-together like Thanksgiving. The last thing you want is the grandkids or extended relatives or friends interrupting the meeting, nor do you want your parents or siblings "surprised" by an impromptu talk after Sunday dinner.
Subjects such as long-term care (see my last two columns on this subject), investments, tax-deferred savings accounts, income needs of ailing parents or children, federal and state taxes, (both now and when settling the estate), the fate of any real estate property, including the parent's home (and possibly a second home) are just some of the issues involved. As you can imagine, it is an important event where quite a bit of data may need to be located, gathered, presented and discussed. Take it seriously because done right; a huge burden will be lifted from everyone's shoulders.
My own parents were products of the Great Depression. They were taught to waste nothing, save everything and above all never, ever, confide financial information to anyone — least of all the kids. As a Baby Boomer, you may have inherited those same traits and your parents may still be alive. If so, you may need to confront those ideas and put them to bed. In fact, you may have to have two family meetings, one with your parents and a second with your adult children.
Clearly, whatever generation you represent, broaching the topic of your family's personal finances can be daunting at best but someone needs to get the ball rolling, and it might as well be you. A few years back, Allianz Life Insurance conducted a study called The American Legacies Study, which revealed that within every family existed an alpha child. That's the person who communicates the most between family members, who plans, schedules and makes sure you all attend those traditional get-togethers. It is the person the family comes to for advice. That is the person who should organize and co-facilitate the meeting.
If you are that alpha child then this responsibility is on your shoulders but if not, swallow your pride and ask a sibling who qualifies to accomplish this. Once that is settled, the next person you need to get on board is your parent's most trusted adviser or if you are talking to your kids, invite your own professional. In your case, that might be a money manager, like me, or a financial planner, but your parents may have relied on their accountant, a family lawyer or even someone they know at their local bank. In any case, ask your parents and make sure that person is not only invited to attend but will help you prepare for the meeting.
In the meantime, I suggest you pick up a copy of an excellent book on the topic: "Can We Talk? A Financial Guide for Baby Boomers Assisting Their Elderly Parents" by Bob Mauterstock, The author is an expert on the subject. His book is a comprehensive and practical guide in helping elderly parents gets their financial lives in order.
Bill Schmick is registered as an investment advisor representative and portfolio manager with Berkshire Money Management.