• December 18, 2019
  • Bob Quinn
  • General

Christmas is rapidly approaching. What does that mean for you? This might be the only time of year when entire families reunite. As a financial planner, I say don’t waste this time. Use it to broach the topics that take on greater significance as you get older.

I’m talking the big topics, such as death, illness, and succession. Call them end-of-life matters. Often, it’s not easy to raise these topics, irrespective of your age or position in the family.

The season of good cheer

But wait, I’m not suggesting for a minute you sit down for dinner on Christmas day with three generations around the table and address your father by saying:

“So, Dad, you haven’t been well this year. Are you willing to go into a nursing home, or do you expect Mum to look after you here at home? Oh, and pass the roast potatoes down this way please!”

There may be better ways to have your dad focus on the plans around his mortality.

It’s about knowing how to approach such topics in a way that will generate a useful discussion. One way that may work is to talk to one or two family members together while carrying out a task.

Shoulder to Shoulder

It’s fair to say that Christmas generates a lot of extra work around the house. From cooking to decorating to getting guest rooms ready: there will be plenty of opportunities to engage in a shoulder-to-shoulder chat. This is a gentle way to approach these tricky issues, and it works particularly well for men. There’s a saying that “Men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder.”

Put It In The Diary

If you are the kind of family that can handle a more organised family discussion, why not set a time in the days following Christmas Day, while family members are still around? By flagging the discussion in advance, people won’t feel as if it’s been sprung on them, and they will have had time to mull over the topics to be discussed.

Perhaps it’s a matter of a sowing the seeds with individual family members over the course of a few days and then having the meeting. Perhaps there is a member of the family who has expertise you can tap into. It really is a case of whatever works best for your tribe.

The Topic Of Conversation

The questions you should be asking are usually obvious. Sometimes it’s an urgent matter: a response to something that has just happened or is about to. If this is the case, don’t stop at the immediate challenge. The pressing matter opens the door to the wider conversation. Don’t waste the opportunity.

Another scenario is a parent wanting to prepare the family for a decision they’ve made, such as selling the family home, moving into a retirement home, or how they plan to divide up their estate when they pass on.

If a parent is experiencing ill-health and becoming less independent, then you need to talk about care arrangements. This can be critical for the child living closest to the parents, who may feel the burden of responsibility will fall solely on them. Christmas is a good time to get everyone on the same page.

Non-Trivial Pursuits

A discussion may also circumvent rows and splits that could arise when a will is read out. It may emerge, for example, that one of your children is very interested in the family home and the others aren’t, and in this knowledge you may be able to divide your assets in such a way that the child who wants the house gets the house, while also being fair to the others.

So that’s the when and the what. If you’re still feeling nervous about broaching these big topics, there are a few things that might increase your confidence and help the discussions go smoothly.

  • Whether you’re the parent or the child, remember that any inheritance is your parents’ to give, not yours.
  • Show respect to everybody there, even if you don’t have the best relationship with them. You’ll be amazed how treating someone respectfully results in respect in return. That means listening as much as talking and acknowledging people’s feelings.
  • Be open. That way, nobody needs to get suspicious or paranoid about what might be going on privately.

Like any piece of your financial jigsaw puzzle, the demands you will experience later in life should be planned for. Whether you are a parent or an adult child, the holiday season is the perfect time to have conversations about the big questions.