Scenario: Aging parents discuss their family’s financial fate

Mary, the wife, speaks: Johnny and I have been married for 50 years. He’s 78 and I’m 74. Our children are Barbara, 50, and Billy, 46. Coming from the “old school” way of thinking, we’ve been very private about our finances and rarely discuss this part of our lives with the kids. But at our age, we have to face the fact that it’s time to do some financial planning. Our kids don’t know it, but we’ve saved quite a bit of money in our time. Now we need to pick one of them as the financial caretaker to handle our estate, but we’re battling over who is more qualified for this important role. Barbara is married to a man we don’t trust. He hasn’t been a good provider for her and our two grandchildren, so we’ve been helping them financially for many years. My husband doesn’t trust Barbara to do the right thing and is afraid her husband will influence her and will take all of our money. Our son Billy works in finance and is smart as a whip – a real numbers person – so Johnny says he is the logical choice. But I don’t want to insult my daughter because I know this will break her heart.

Analysis: Lack of Parental agreement over their children’s strengths at a critical time in their lives

The estate planning process is creating an emotional tug-of-war for aging parents Mary and Johnny. Each has a different objective that is important to them. The father is concerned with the financial stability of the marital estate he has worked hard to accumulate over a half-century. And the mother is concerned about the emotional sensitivity of her daughter. Actually, both of their concerns are valid because they deal with the future functionality and stability of their family.

Going Grey Matters Commentary

Family Dynamics Perspective: As a team with recognized expertise in trust and estate law and family dynamics, Going Grey Matters can customize a mediation process where the parents’ concerns are addressed and a resolution can be reached that is acceptable for the parents and their adult children. The function of the mediation process is to allow all family members to address their critical issues in an open and civilized forum, where they are guided to speak freely by a family coach.

Traditionally, Mary and Johnny would hire an estate planning professional who would only address their specific concerns about which child to pick as their financial caretaker. In contrast, our multi-disciplinary approach is to determine the entire family’s dynamics, strengths and weaknesses as they interact with each other. We want to understand the level of conflict between the brother and his sister and her husband. When these difficult conversations are not addressed, they can become the basis of escalated, long-term dissension and arguments within a family.

Legal Perspective: This couple’s dilemma can become a great opportunity to ensure the family’s future both financially and as a functioning familial unit. By including interdisciplinary family mediation in the couple’s estate planning process, the potential for post-death family conflict or future litigation is substantially reduced. And, their estate planning cost and experience will deliver ‘added value’.

Resolution: Mediation-guided family communication

We offer Mary, Johnny and their family a structured approach to selecting a trustworthy financial caretaker, while keeping peace in the family – all facilitated by the interdisciplinary Going Grey Matters team.