The double taboo: Money and death

It is hard to have an open, contained conversation about money that includes emotions and does not end up in a difficult interaction. This is a learned skill for most of us. It is even harder to have an open and contained discussion about money and death. Whether you want to know what is in your parents’ estates and how they plan to distribute or you want to deal with your own estate issues with your grown children, people in general are reluctant to address these topics.

The adults who are hesitant to ask information of their parents are afraid of being seen as greedy, in competition with their siblings or even of anticipating their parents’ deaths. This kind of avoidance generates anxiety and worry, often for years as they secretly wonder about the estate issues or dread dealing with their siblings.

It will take some courage and some skill to initiate this conversation but it could easily be that your parents are afraid to bring it up and would appreciate your initiating this conversation. It also helps to begin “softly” and with open ended questions such as “What you would most like to have happen in our family when you are at the end of your life?” ” How can all of us help you with that?” If your parent is in denial and will not discuss the topic, approach this indirectly by telling stories of your friends and their parents.

Parents tend to be blissfully unaware of the possibilities of sibling wars when they make inheritance decisions on their own and keep them private. The best outcome for your whole family may be to tell your adult children about your decisions and let them express their opinions and have some input as well. Emotions that truly should be part of the parent relationship can often be acted out on the siblings after the parents are deceased.

What gets in the way of parents calling a family meeting and reviewing estate concerns? Many do not know that it is important to do and it never occurs to them. Many parents perceive the assets to belong only to them and thus they have complete freedom to do as they wish. This ignores the next generation’s feelings that the assets belong to the whole family. In addition, as parents approach the last stage of their lives, they do not want to risk having a child upset with them or alienated from them and believe that keeping inheritance terms secret will preserve their own relationship with their children.

Best practices in today’s modern family include an open family meeting about the future process that the children will go through, some input from them and an open discussion of why certain choices seem desirable and the contained expression of feelings about this.