Bringing up money with family can be uncomfortable and even be seen as taboo. But this year instead of avoiding the issue, address it head on when the family is all together over Thanksgiving. Here's how.
Family and personal finances are a big part of every holiday season. People are buying gifts, preparing holiday meals, and planning all of the changes in their lives that the coming new year might bring.
While it’s easier to speak with financial professionals about your finances, we try to keep peace with the family, have lighter conversations and speak about things that we think will unite us. However at Agemy Financial Strategies, in addition to giving thanks for all we have, we want everyone to engage in some financially sound thinking this Thanksgiving.
With that being said, here are two important financial topics to discuss with loved ones over the holiday.
The first dinner table conversation to have is to get a grasp of where everyone stands financially. If no-one yet knows off the top of their head, checking credit scores is a quick way to get an initial overview. Nowadays, there are many websites where you can receive instant reports. Credit scores can help creditors determine whether to give you credit, decide the terms they offer, or the interest rate you pay. Having a high score can benefit you in many ways. It can make it easier for you to get a loan, rent an apartment, or lower your insurance rate. Whilst you can login to your credit report anytime, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. Order online from annualcreditreport.com, the only authorized website for free credit reports, or call 1-877-322-8228.
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Second up, and to truly get a solid financial picture of where they stand, encourage loved ones to gather and organize financial documents, such as:
- Credit cards
- Phone bills
- Utility bills
- Account statements
- Insurance and mortgage payments, etc.
Be sure to remind everyone to keep the paperwork (or login information for online access) in a secure location. Having all documents in a central location makes it easier to collect documentation for loan applications, as well as to review your finances for budgeting. By gathering such information, every family member will have a better understanding of their financial picture in 2021 and be able to make adjustments for the year ahead. In fact, reflecting on your previous year’s budgeting is essential to figure out where you have gone wrong and what aspect of your budgeting needs improving. By reflecting, you can also see where you have gone right in your budgeting and do the same this time around.
One of the keys to a sound financial strategy is spending less than you take in, and then finding a way to put your excess to work. A money management approach involves creating budgets to understand and make decisions about where your money is going. It also involves knowing where you may be able to put your excess cash to work.
Many adults, regardless of age, delay estate planning because it can be uncomfortable to think about one’s own mortality. While no one believes that wills and trusts should be contemplated over Thanksgiving turkey, clarifying whether you or your aging loved ones have the documents in place to protect their personal and financial affairs is not only appropriate, but essential. It’s a good idea to do your own estate planning documents first or be working on your own and researching these topics yourself so you have more credibility when you bring up the topic. Third-party material from your trusted financial professional can also be a useful tool for starting a conversation.
It's worth noting there’s more to estate planning than how assets are distributed at death. Estate plans should also include incapacity documents. The three most common incapacity documents are:
1. Living Will
Although everyone knows in theory that they should complete important paperwork before the need arises, very few of us actually do. But it’s crucial to have this discussion early—both for those who may need care and for those who may have to act on someone else’s behalf.
Your family may have heard that a living will is a good idea, but do they understand what a living will actually does? A shocking 92 percent of Americans know they need a living will but only 27 percent actually have them. With families gathering for the holidays, now may be a perfect time to discuss this with older relatives.
A living will is also known as a health care or instruction directive. It is separate from the will that determines the inheritance of your assets. It focuses on your preferences concerning medical treatment if you develop a terminal illness or injury, such as a brain tumor, Alzheimer’s disease or head trauma that causes you to lose brain activity. Medical care in a living will may include instructions for the following:
- Tube feeding
- Assisted breathing
- Other life-prolonging procedures
It may also outline your religious or philosophical beliefs and how you would like your life to end. A living will is only valid if you are unable to communicate your wishes.
2. Healthcare Power of Attorney
A health care power of attorney gives someone else (the proxy) the ability to make decisions for you regarding your health care. Unlike a living will, it applies to both end-of-life treatment as well as other areas of medical care.
As a designated healthcare power of attorney, it’s important that you understand your loved one’s health insurance. If your family member is age 65 or older, they are more than likely insured through Medicare:
- Medicare Part A covers inpatient hospital procedures, skilled nursing facility stays, hospice and some home health care.
- Medicare Part B covers preventive services and medically necessary services or supplies needed to diagnose or treat a medical condition.
- Medicare Part D is optional prescription drug coverage.
Experts recommend supplemental insurance to extend benefits for health care needs not provided by Medicare Parts A and B so your loved one may have a supplemental policy as well. Medicare doesn’t pay for long-term care so you’ll need to find out if your loved one has a long-term policy or if it would be advisable for him or her to purchase one.
Many of these policies provide home health care services. You’ll have peace of mind knowing someone is taking care of your family member. You may decide to have both a power of attorney and a living will, called a combined advance directive for health care. Whether you go with one or both, you receive similar benefits.
3. Financial Power of Attorney.
A seemingly sore topic to discuss at family gatherings - but crucial nonetheless - is who will control financial matters on behalf of a loved one when they are unable to do so. But if you need to give another person the ability to conduct your financial matters when you can’t or unable to be present, a financial power of attorney (POA) may be your solution.
This document allows someone you appoint to act on your behalf when it comes to money matters. They can pay your bills, transfer funds between accounts and even sell your car if need be. This durable power of attorney can go into effect the day you have it notarized, or you can make it a “springing” power, which means it only goes into effect if a doctor deems you incapable of making decisions.
Many states have an official durable power of attorney form, which is usually a durable financial power of attorney form. Some banks and brokerage firms have their own power of attorney forms. Also, for buying or selling real property, a title insurance company, lender or closing agent may require the use of their form. Therefore, you may end up with more than one financial POA form.
It's especially important that your loved ones have an estate plan in action with incapacity documents so you can review them. If not, schedule a meeting with an estate planning professional. You’ll be grateful you implemented the plan now rather than later. Remember, the goal of the holiday discussion is to ensure that your aging parents or loved ones have their financial house in order, not to pry, or in any way appear as if your inquiries are motivated by self-interest. As a general rule of thumb, you should avoid asking direct questions about account balances, beneficiaries, or the value of their estates.
As much as we look forward to the gathering around Thanksgiving, preparations for many of us include ticking off a mental list of what we cannot talk about for fear of igniting a feud between second helpings and dessert. Even if your family members are not ready to tackle everything on their financial goals list, after the family get together they can start chipping away now.
It's always important to meet with your Financial Advisor to get the facts from the source. Be sure to provide them with updates on your financial situation, including your expected retirement date, income needs, and any other family situations that may affect your financial plan.
However you're spending the holidays this year, the team at Agemy Financial Strategies are always on-hand to help guide you through your financial planning journey. Contact us here today to get started.