When it comes to family conversations, many parents aren't discussing their retirement plans or other financial matters with their adult children. The result: Many Americans are underprepared to live comfortably in retirement or rally their family during a financial crisis.
A new study by Fidelity Investments found that 64% of parents and children can't agree on when to have conversations about financial preparedness. The Intra-Generational Finance Study surveyed 1,058 parents and 159 adult children. Based upon the study, Fidelity concluded that money is still a taboo subject for many parents and their adult children.
Many families disagree about when to sit down and have detailed conversations about important later-life financial issues such as retirement, estate planning and elder care. According to the study, around 40% of parents indicated they haven't discussed these matters with their adult children.
Families may be delaying these conversations or circumventing the hard details to avoid uncomfortable or stressful situations with their kids.
"Admittedly, these discussions aren't always easy, but there can be real emotional and financial consequences when they don't happen or lack sufficient depth," said John Sweeney, executive vice president of Retirement and Investing Strategies at Fidelity.
While parents would rather wait until after retirement to have "the family finance talk," their children want the conversation to occur well before their parents retire or experience health problems.
This disconnect has widened over the past two years since Fidelity conducted a similar study in 2012. Increasingly, American generations are becoming divided over how to ensure financial security during old age, according to the study.
Three financial misunderstandings creating schisms within families
• Parents lag adult children on sense of urgency about retirement: Adult children are 56% more likely to worry about financial security, compared to 23% of parents. 70% of parents indicate that they don't know precisely how much money they will have to live on in retirement. This statistic is up 5% from the 2012 Fidelity survey.
• Adult children significantly underestimate the value of their parents' estate: Adult children undervalue their parents' estate by more than $300,000. This is more than double what it was two years before.
• Families disagree over who will care for a parent if they become ill: Nearly 43% of the adult children surveyed expect they or a sibling will accept care-giving duties. Conversely, only 6% of parents expect this.
The study shows that many parent-child disagreements can be avoided by starting financial talks earlier.
"Ideally, detailed family conversations on these matters should take place well before retirement," Sweeney said. "Although it's understandable that parents may have sensitivities and want to delay discussing personal financial matters, the best strategy is to set these concerns aside and have frank discussions sooner rather than later … it's very possible your children will have to make some financial health care decisions for you later in life."
Fidelity guidelines for how to better approach family financial talks
• Initiate family discussions earlier, and don't be afraid to ask plenty of detailed questions: The earlier and the more detailed conversations are, the greater a family's sense of financial preparedness during major life transitions. Almost 93% of parents who discussed wills and estate planning with their children reported greater peace of mind. 73% said that it would help their children's emotional state of mind, too.
• Follow the "voice not vote" rule: When it comes to later-life finances, democracy should take a back seat. While family members should be able to share their opinions during the retirement planning process, make sure the ultimate decisions are made in accordance to the dreams and wishes of the parents. These same parents have worked hard to build their wealth and deserve to chart their journey through retirement.
• Have the right people talking about the right thing: Advance planning can help you divvy up responsibilities; Parents should determine what conversations to have and choose the people involved. For example, who will have the power of attorney or take charge of your estate? This is the kind of question parents don't want to decide at the last minute. Consider the personalities of your adult children, their proximity and inclinations, to avoid surprises and make for more streamlined, efficient conversations.
• Continue the conversation: Financial discussions shouldn't be a one-time event. Parents should keep the momentum going and schedule as many gatherings with their families as they need. Parents may want to revisit plans they make at least annually to make sure they still make sense to their children.