Most of today’s seniors had faced the task of ‘first’ important talk when they were young and raising their family. When their children were coming of age, the parents had to have a heart to heart conversation with the children about ‘the birds and the bees’. Not that the children needed it because they probably knew all about it long before the parents gathered enough gumption to talk about it. But, nevertheless, it was hard to find time and gather enough thoughts to break the subject to them and then explain what it was all about.

Now as senior citizens, in the age of suffering from medical issues and slowing down, they face another dilemma. It is not about finances or getting some financial help from the children, or about the independent ‘at home’ living (that most of the seniors desire) but it is about what should happen to their estate when they have departed from the face of this earth.

Most of the seniors, judging from my observations as a Financial Planner, do not have a heart to heart conversation with either their children or the trustees who will handle their estate after they are gone. It is not that they don’t want to (in fact they may have thought of doing this numerous times) but it just does not happen. If one would put himself/herself in the situation that will be faced by the trustees after the senior passes, of finding out the details of the financial estate, of finding out all the accounts (savings, stocks, CDs, IRAs etc.), of finding out the original paperwork (wills, trusts, titles and other documents needed to complete the transactions) then it would be easier to imagine what kind of difficulties, frustrations and heartaches the trustees will face if they don’t know what is where and that they have to start from scratch. This is the second most important talk I am referring to.

Majority of seniors (my clients) that I have talked to in my business, have not done such an important talk. It is meant to help the trustees get a handle on the situation and not have to go through the painstaking task of digging every thing up since they don’t know what is involved in the first place and then how to go about closing the issues, whom to contact etc. And then there is the unpleasant task of facing disgruntlement, fighting and other issues that arise from the siblings and relatives only because they did not know your intentions and were expecting something different.

There are three phases in this task of putting it all together and conveying the information properly.

First is getting all the information in one place: like the assets of one’s estate, for example, saving/checking accounts, IRAs and other financial assets. Included in that will be other treasures like jewelry, china, special heirlooms, furniture, clothing and similar items. It will be an extensive list and should also include names and telephone numbers of the persons to contact, account numbers, IDs and passwords etc. for each one of those financial accounts.

The second phase is to gather trustees and relatives in one place and telling them what to do about it. Most of us don’t think of doing it and are generally afraid to talk about it but it is best if you let them know your intentions as to who is getting what from the list of assets that you put together. It is better to let them know your intentions now and discuss the merits or your reasoning for it than them having to guess what ‘uncle Bob (or aunt Sally) intended’ to do with his/her assets. If there are questions, dissatisfactions, displeasures you can answer them now or at least let them know why you are thinking that way and discuss the issues. This is a much better scene than court fights and bitter feelings afterwards. After death you are not there to explain any thing and it is all guess work or hearsay on their part. I cannot say enough about having all this out in the open so that there is no guesswork afterwards. It is my experience that our seniors are generally afraid of taking such a step. Whatever ill feelings such open talk may create can be discussed, explained and sorted out while uncle Bob is still alive and in a position (health wise) to talk about it. This second important TALK must happen.

Third phase is all about the health and end of life issues. Who is authorized to make the final medical decisions and also about the life sustaining decisions is a critical factor and it should be well known and documented. Your trustee must know as to what your desires are. Many times this is mentioned in a ‘will’ or ‘patient advocate form’ but not discussed for specifics and, worse yet, nobody knows about it.

I have observed and felt enough pain and suffering because this was not done right or not done at all. It is imperative that for the sake of your next generations (trustees and others) and peace in the family you put it all together and then muster enough courage to bring all the concerned people together and START the conversation. You will be pleasantly surprised to see the response from them. I have to say, on rare occasion, I have also heard from a few seniors that when they take the initiative and try to organize just such a meeting the response from the children (or trustees) is that of extreme apathy; alas, that will be at their own peril. In such cases you need to let them know where the information is assuming that you have already put it together in one place.

Mo Vidwans, CFP®, MBA

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