Among the findings: Although most Americans recognize that people should have their affairs in order before they turn 50, only about half have a will by that age — and fewer than one in five have prepared a will, advance health care directive and durable power of attorney, even though most acknowledge that lack of planning can leave their families in a bind. “Planning your legacy can give you the reassurance that you've done all you can to organize your life, articulate your wishes and shape how you will be remembered,” says Kevin Hindman, managing director, Retirement & Personal Wealth Solutions at Bank of America. To get the essentials in place, “seek trusted advice from family, friends and financial, legal and medical professionals,” he suggests. “And make sure you have advocates who know your wishes and can work on your behalf.”
While 87% of Americans surveyed say it's a parent's responsibility to initiate legacy-planning conversations, few do. What's the sticking point? In many cases, it may be children's reluctance to take part in difficult planning conversations that force them to acknowledge their parents’ mortality. “Parents are actually more receptive to talking about legacy planning than their kids might be,” says Matthew Wesley, director of the Merrill Center for Family WealthTM. “Most parents don't want to burden their kids with a mess, turmoil and conflict because of inadequate planning.”
“Although these frank planning conversations may be uncomfortable as they’re happening, it’s necessary to have them so that everyone’s expectations are out on the table,” adds Cynthia Hutchins, director of Financial Gerontology at Bank of America. “Once you’ve had them, you can enjoy life more fully, knowing you’ve done your best to see that your wishes will be observed and your family well cared for.” Here's how to get started.
Make it a life-affirming conversation
When it comes to talking with your family about your wishes — everything from how you want to be cared for to how you plan to distribute your property and financial assets — the sooner you get started, the easier it is for your loved ones. By starting early and returning to the subject regularly, you help to normalize it, points out Wesley.
“We suggest introducing the topic gradually, starting with discussions about your core values and the use of wealth. Once you have done the foundational work, you will be ready to talk about the technical issues involved and finally reveal the numbers,” he says. “Make it all a life-affirming conversation, not one heavily focused on death.”