It was the morning I was to return to Denver after a weekend trip to my small Southern Colorado hometown. My mom and I were having coffee when she said, “Anita, we have to discuss some things.” She got up from the table and went over to a filing cabinet and pulled out a manila folder full of papers.
I realized what the papers were as soon as she’d sat back down. Apparently, she’d devoured the book I’d given her called The Other Talk A Guide to Talking to Your Adult Children About the Rest of Your Life.
My mom is a miracle worker with money. And as she laid out each piece of paper and explained what it was, I realized she’s managed to conduct another miracle—planning the entirety of her and my dad’s estate planning without having us do or pay for it. She’s planned out every detail of her funeral down to what seems like a party complete with a playlist. She’s written instructions as to what we are NOT to do (none of that darn crying, no obituary in the paper, etc.) and she’s even paid for it all already.
Of course, I’ll have to disobey her instructions when that time comes. I couldn’t even hold in my tears as she was explaining what was what because the thought of a world without my queen, my hero, my best friend is unbearable. But she has a way of discussing death as though it will be her last business transaction—one that she’s already put in the work for—and one that I should definitely not live in denial about.
“This is where everything is so you know when the time comes,” she explained as she put the folder neatly back in its drawer.
In editing this month’s Journal of Financial Planning—which is all about estate planning—I got to thinking about this talk with my mom and how it would be helpful if all parents would be this transparent with their kids.
So, I did some research and compiled a list of what you could do to help your clients be as open and honest with their kids as my mom was with me.
Encourage them to have the family talk. The talk I reference above wasn’t the first time my mom has sat me down to discuss this topic. I am the youngest of four children, and she’s sat all four of us down in the same manner to discuss her and my dad’s end-of-life documents and planning. On numerous occasions, she has brought the four of us together to talk about the properties and insurance policies and what will belong to whom and given us each the relevant documents.
Maybe your clients aren’t as open with their kids, but they can still sit down with their children to discuss their wishes and their end-of-life plan so that their kids can get on board. They can also discuss the financial and medical power of attorney appointment at this meeting.
Encourage them to be open with their kids about their decisions. Our mom has told us the rationale behind her estate planning decisions so we understand why certain assets will be given to certain siblings. We are all in agreement with these choices. My mom’s openness and honesty has made it easy for us to accept and honor her decisions. Plus, since she’s incredibly brilliant, her reasons for making each decision are sound.
Encourage clients to make a binder for each child. I got this idea from Bob Mauterstock at an FPA Annual Conference session he had in Boston. He encouraged the attendees to have their clients put together binders for each of their adult children so they can have all the relevant documents they need. My mom absolutely loved this idea and has also made binders for each one of us that contains all the documents relevant to whatever assets she has plans to leave us.
The emotional aspect of estate planning isn’t easy, but knowing my mom has done all of this and has kept us in the loop will make this incredibly difficult transition—both emotionally and financially—a little less intense.
Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.