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How To Enjoy the Gene Pool (or, How To Survive Family Vacations)

Jessica Lanning

I just got back from a trip to my dad and stepmom’s house.  My husband and two kids joined me.  My sister and her husband met us there.  We had 11 fun-filled days of Lanning family food, drinks, humor, ribbing, relaxation, bonding, hugs, love, and laughter.  To top it all off, we were in Pennsylvania, which has a real hot, muggy summer.  I live and work in San Francisco.  After months of cold, foggy weather, real summer weather is great no matter how hot it is.  I actually have a tan, of all things.

How to make the most of family bonding time

When I’m working with clients, I will often ask questions like these:

• Do you think you will inherit money from your parents or extended family?

• Do you believe you will have to support your parents or other family members financially now or in the future?

• Do you think your parents would be willing to contribute toward college education?

• How is the health of your parents? Are they taking any medications?

I would guess that somewhere around 80% of the time, I get blank stares or guesses as a response to these questions.  What that tells me is that aging parents are not sharing with their adult children the status of their financial lives.  This probably started generations ago and was passed down when the adult children were young and parents didn’t want to share financial information with young children who might share that information with friends and neighbors.  The habit stuck.  Now the information is not shared for any number of reasons—privacy, embarrassment, unequal inheritance allocations, etc.

This is bad news for everyone.  It’s bad news for aging parents who need to assign the task of Power of Attorney to someone, who want to maintain family harmony, who may need financial or other support in the future as they age.  And it’s bad news for adult children raising their own children, probably instituting the generations-old habit into the next generation, and are clueless about what their parents might need or what they might be able to anticipate inheriting in the future (or not!)

Take time during your family vacations to talk, bond and laugh.  You do not need to talk finances.  But you do need to start building the relationship and trust with your family members so that when there is an opening to talk about serious financial issues, the bridge is there to make that conversation happen easily, timely, and when everyone has their faculties.  The last thing you want to do is have this conversation when someone is medically, physically, or psychologically impaired by illness or old age.

Get the conversation going.  Start with the weather.