Kiplinger’s Personal Finance: Have the family money talk

Holiday get-togethers can be good times to lay the groundwork for future family money conversations.

If your family gathering is on the small side, you may be able to find a relaxed time to discuss some details.

With a larger group, or in a family where emotions or tension can run high, it’s usually best to introduce the topic and plan to have more substantive discussions in the new year.

Start by identifying the key people who should know about your plans and which aspects are most important for others to know, said Betsy Simmons Hannibal, a lawyer who writes about estate planning for

Talking to your family about how you plan to divvy up property and other assets can head off sibling squabbles and uncertainty.

Even if you prefer not to provide specifics, it’s important for your heirs to understand the basics of how they’ll receive any inheritance, along with the reasoning behind your decision.

You might, for example, explain that you plan to divide assets unequally among your children because one has a lower earning potential due to a health condition, say, or one has made a financial sacrifice to help you in retirement.

As you review your decisions, make sure your will and beneficiaries listed on financial accounts are up to date.

You also should broach the subject of what you’ll likely expect from your family as you get older. Let your adult children (or others who will be involved in your care) know if you have a long-term-care insurance policy or if you will be relying on other resources or family assistance to cover costs as you age.

To head off any legal or financial problems if an illness or accident occurs, make sure your family knows where you keep estate-planning documents, including a will, powers of attorney for finances and health care, and any health care directives.

Check in with anyone you’ve named as an executor or health care proxy to make sure they’re aware of the responsibility and your wishes.

If you’re having this discussion with your adult children, ask about their plans as well. Pertinent questions include whether they’ve drafted a will or made updates since having children, and whether they have enough life insurance and long-term-disability insurance.

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