Recently, we held a wonderful client education event with the topic centered around rightsizing your living arrangements. It’s a topic no one really wants to talk about, but our experience tells us this is a topic that must be addressed. Can I stay in my home? When will I know it is time to leave my home and consider other arrangements? Will my kids “put me in one of those places?” Again, not a fun topic. The key takeaway we wanted our clients to have was that this is their decision…if properly planned for. However, starting this conversation is never easy, and therefore the decision is usually made in a hurry, shortly after an event takes place that signals an aging parent can no longer live independently. When that happens, it’s a lose-lose for everyone. Mom & Dad feel forced into a new living arrangement, and Son & Daughter are stricken with feelings of guilt for taking Mom and Dad out of their home. In many cases, parents don’t want to start this conversation because they feel it’s the first step to losing their independence. Interestingly, children don’t want to start the conversation either for fear that their parents will receive it the wrong way. Further complicating this dynamic is the fact that many families are now scattered across the globe, no longer just a few houses down.

In nearly every conversation we have with clients about their retirement planning, we hear a common theme: “We do not want to be a burden on our children.” However, that’s almost always cast in the shadow of money. It’s a conversation telling us how they will give up certain elements of their lifestyle, or purchase long-term care insurance so that they do not infringe on their children’s own financial circumstances. I understand, it’s a goal of my own parents to not be a ‘burden.’ (BTW, phew!!) However, just viewing this through the lens of money fails to fully embrace this goal. At our client event, I had a healthy, vibrant couple tell me afterwards that they recognize they should have this conversation with their adult children, and that they (the parents) want to. However, when they bring it up, the children nonchalantly brush it off and tell their parents they don’t want to discuss it. Why is that? Well, it could be any number of reasons. It might be the holidays and who wants to ruin the mood? The children still might struggle with talking about family financials because growing up, this was a taboo subject. Or it might simply be a fear of recognizing their parents’ eventual mortality. I told the parents to broach the topic with a soft landing. Give this a try:

Your father and I recognize that someday, we may need to alter our living arrangements. We’re not ready to do that today, but we think it’s important that we discuss it now. We want to involve you in the conversation because when that time comes, we want everyone to be comfortable with the outcome. Our fear is if we do not do this now, the decision will be forced upon all of us, in a rushed window of time as a result of an accident, or some deterioration of our health. We just don’t want you to feel bad about having to make decisions at that time.

I often suggest that families schedule a meeting to discuss this topic. This allows everyone to come to the table in the right mindset, and not be blindsided by the seriousness of the conversation. Since it’s tough to get everyone together, maybe the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is a good time. The idea being that before the holiday is in full swing; you cover this topic, then the festivities can begin. The benefit…if you have multiple children, they now have a few days face-to-face with their siblings to process the information.

We have hosted these meetings at our office countless times. We’ve helped set agendas for them and in some cases we’ve led the discussion. It is obvious though that the biggest decisions in life should be built on a foundation of planning – ignoring the topic will not lead to favorable outcomes. Financial planning is a very personal thing and we can help simplify this complex issue for your family.  We certainly want to do that.

It’s your life. Plan for it.