Are you ready to have the inheritance talk?

How to get the family talking about legacy

Questions you can ask your UBS Financial Advisor

  • Why is the inheritance talk necessary?
  • How do I start the conversation with my children or parents?
  • How do I make sure we preserve our family legacy?

Conversations about inheritances are, in a word, fraught. Other words that may come to mind include uncomfortable, scary, strange and awkward. In fact, there is no shortage of descriptors for these conversations. But the most important word to remember, above all the rest, is this one: necessary.

For families with significant wealth, multigenerational conversations about inheritance are necessary.

While these discussions may cause anxiety, in the end, they tend to help families, especially those with considerable assets. UBS research has found that when parents include their children in their estate planning, families are happier with the outcomes; and heirs say that the “open dialog” approach is the strategy they plan to use with their own children, even if it wasn’t the strategy their own parents used.1

“The biggest opportunity for these conversations to go well is if the children are ready to receive the information and the parents are ready to share it,” says Judy Spalthoff, Head of Family Advisory and Philanthropy Services for UBS. Spalthoff’s team spends considerable time facilitating family meetings, and she often uses the metaphor of a dimmer switch to describe the process. “You turn the light on slowly, instead of flipping it on all at once,” she says.

So, how can families gradually turn the light on?

Talking to your children about inheritance

Most families agree that parents are the ones who should bring up issues to do with inheritance. However, UBS research shows that most benefactors don’t feel having inheritance conversations are a pressing issue.2 They may be in denial about their own mortality, or they may fear creating a sense of entitlement in their children.

Spalthoff says that thinking about the conversation just in terms of money is usually not the right approach—or at least it’s not a comprehensive enough approach. “Your children will be inheriting so much more than money,” she says. When her team meets with families, they don’t start off talking about money. “Instead, we begin by talking about things like values, and the family mission, or how the family gives back. It’s a way to prepare the heirs to receive the information.”

Having regular dialog about these issues (Spalthoff suggests families meet at least once a year, and, ideally, with a neutral facilitator) is a way to move the family forward, into discussing issues of inheritance.

Talking to your parents about inheritance

Heirs usually feel that it’s inappropriate to bring up issues of inheritance. They fear it will make them look greedy. However, many do expect to inherit, and given that baby boomers are about to transfer $68 trillion in wealth to their heirs, it’s a sound expectation.

There may be “back door” ways into starting a conversation about money with your parents—such as talking about how you just met with your financial advisor and/or estate attorney and are actively focused on financial planning. But those attempts may only create awkward silences. Plus, it can feel very contrived.

Again, Spalthoff suggests starting with a much broader conversation—one about the family story. Open-ended inquiries like, “Tell me about your dreams and goals when you were younger,” or “I want to make sure my kids know their grandparents’ story and the values they passed down. What should I make sure to tell them?” are a wonderful way not only to get a dialog going, but to better learn your family story, and to have a greater appreciation for the context.

Spalthoff says that while a wealth “transfer” is about the dollars and cents, a wealth “transition” includes all of the “softer” parts—the stories and values. In other words: the legacy. Instead of trying to initiate a conversation about inheritance, consider initiating one about legacy—a vastly more rich emotional territory, with great potential to connect the generations in a new way.

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