Break the Taboo

By Reid, Bill | Independent Banker, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Break the Taboo


Reid, Bill, Independent Banker


Help your customers talk to their parents about estate planning

Many of your bank's customers whose parents are still alive probably don't even know if their parents have a will. Most have probably never asked. Maybe they don't want to consider their parents' deaths. Or perhaps they fear any such questions would provoke an angry retort on the order of, "Mind your own business!" You know the consequences of avoiding such discussions, though. One day children find themselves rummaging through an empty house, searching for important documents. Or, they must wait through months of probate proceedings before they can claim what is rightfully theirs.

To help your customers avoid such fates, you must help them overcome their resistance to discussing two taboo topics-money and death. Can it be done? Psychotherapist Tessa Albert Warschaw insists it can. She offers five basic tips on how to initiate and conduct conversations about estate planning.

1. Broach the subject indirectly-Parents avoid planning their estates for any number of reasons. Maybe they're not ready to contemplate death or consider how to divide their property. Having a child march into their home to ask if they've drafted a will may not serve as a call to action. The parents might rebuff their son or daughter simply because they're embarrassed to admit they haven't done anything yet.

Children may have greater luck spurring parents into action if they try a subtle approach like mentioning another family's experience.

More than likely, your customers know a friend whose father suffered a stroke, or a neighbor whose mother developed Alzheimer's disease. These situations are compounded if the children can't make financial, legal or medical decisions on their parents' behalf. Hearing about the turmoil another family faced might prompt your customer's parents to meet with you or an attorney. Adult children can reveal what they've done to protect their own children. By explaining how they worked with an attorney and financial adviser to set up a living trust or draft a will, adult children can take some of the mystery out of estate planning. They may even inspire their parents to imitate their actions.

2. Be sensitive to family dynamics-Put to rest parents' concerns about sibling rivalries. Maybe your customer's parents know your customer was always competitive with a sibling. The parents might interpret any questions about their estate as an attempt to wrest control of the family's estate. In that case, you might suggest the two children talk to each other first and then meet with their parents together.

Build the parents' confidence in their grown children's money management skills.

Maybe your male customer's father is reluctant to trust his son with his financial affairs because of some bad money decisions he made in the past. In that case, you might suggest the son bring along his father to his next meeting with you.

The son doesn't have to reveal how much he has invested. But when his father sees he's acted responsibly, he may realize his son can be trusted to handle financial affairs.

3. Tailor the message to the recipient-Let "take-charge" and reserved parents take in estate-planning information on their own.

Authoritarian parents and those who like to keep their own counsel probably won't sit through a conversation in which their children make recommendations on estate planning. For these parents, adult children, with your help, could put together information on planning one's estate in a packet with your card included. …

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