“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 at Bank of America Private Bank. 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.”
Starting a conversation with your family about your legacy can be tough. According to a 2022 survey by the senior housing and care website Caring.com, only about a quarter of those 55 and older report talking to their children about estate planning; one out of five of those under 55 have had that conversation with their parents.2 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.”