How to have those difficult conversations with loved ones

I often think about the time a client said to me that on his death…”the only difficult conversation that my family will have will be over who’ll get the kitchen table…that’s where the memories were made”.

I thought then as I think now, if only all family conversations around health and wealth could be like that. But the reality is that they rarely are quite that simple. The conversations tend to be a lot harder to navigate.

How do you speak to your parents about their wills, inheritance tax planning, their finances? How do you bring up topics such as care home fees, lasting powers of attorney? And what about organ donation and do not resuscitate forms? These are all important to get right, but mean you have to talk about really difficult topics and situations that most people prefer to push to the back of their minds.

Every family has its own dynamics and money can often be a taboo subject to discuss. It often becomes even trickier when it’s in the context of someone dying or being incapacitated. However, if you have an elderly parent or you have a vulnerable family member who you are informally responsible for, these conversations need to be had sooner rather than later.

Recommendations for a smoother dialogue

Here are some suggestions, based on both personal and professional experiences, that will hopefully make things just that little bit easier:

  1. See this as an opportunity for conversation. Yes, highlight the issues or problems and air your views, but it is important to give everyone the space to talk freely. It’s a two way conversation – you need to be open to all options, not just the ones you feel are best. It’s also important to make it clear that this is a conversation about the best interests of the person you’re trying to help.

If this is hard, you may want to consider taking professional advice as this can help you navigate the more difficult topics and together you can work out who will take responsibility for the solutions that you reach a consensus on.

  1. Get the setting right. Don’t underestimate the difference it can make being in a place where you all feel relaxed. Try to avoid somewhere there are a lot of distractions or where you might feel uncomfortable speaking openly with your loved ones.
  1. Make sure all parties are prepared to have the chat. If not, agree to another date.
  1. Keep the questions simple. What can I do to help with your estate planning? If you became ill, who do you want to make decisions for you on your health and your finances? I have been getting myself more financially organised, do you have any suggestions that have worked for you?
  1. Tone of voice is key. You might remember the Professor Albert Mehrabian theory on human communications (I wrote about it here), which states that when it comes to communication, 55% is body language, 38% is tone and just 7% is words. So be aware of your non-verbal style.
  1. Be Patient. These are big decisions that need to be made but it’s important that no one feels rushed or ignored.
  1. If the conversations break down, they break down, it happens. The issue is still the issue, so it might be worth asking a professional to help or take on the discussions.
  1. A belligerent attitude by the affected person is also a possibility, especially when they feel they are giving away their independence. If this happens, try asking them what the three things are that they could do with some help with. It gives them back that sense of control and also gives you something to build on, even if the things are not quite the ones you expected eg insurance renewals, IT issues or cold calls. 
  1. Be aware of con artists. They come in all different forms and are very adept at muscling their way into important financial decisions.
  1. Use a document, such as the SK Essential Plan, to store all of your financial details, passcodes, log ins. We suggest that this document sits with your letter of wishes and your wills.

And finally, don’t forget that our team are good listeners and we’re very experienced at dealing with difficult financial matters. We are happy to work alongside you at your pace to support you with what you want to achieve, to help you be and feel financially organised. These are not easy conversations. If handled right, though, they can become invaluable conversations.