The Thanksgiving holiday approaches. Do you anticipate this event with desire or dread? For many families, it is the one time of the year they can get together for at least a few hours to create memories, reminisce and share a traditional feast. But it can also be a time of anxiety, with issues to avoid and feelings that can easily be hurt. 

How, then, can I even consider suggesting you bring up the subject of growing older — not only the physical aspects but the financial planning issues that will inevitably arise?

Certainly, this is not a subject to bring up over dinner or immediately after when the family is headed to the couch to watch the football games. Maybe you could postpone the topic until the next day. Black Friday is so passe, with holiday sales starting early. Instead, we could rename it “Family Friday” — a time to catch up on those touchy intergenerational financial questions:

— Do you have a will and a health care power of attorney? 

— Who will be guardian for your minor children in case of a tragedy?

— Have you thought about downsizing from this big house to a smaller place? 

— What about the costs of care that are not covered by Medicare or supplement policies?

“Tread lightly,” advises Dr. Barbara Nussbaum, a New York psychologist and specialist in coaching individuals and families with money issues. “Everyone knows they are getting older, but few are open to discussing the financial issues in advance.”

In fact, a recent Genworth survey shows that although 70 percent of people over age 65 are likely to need some sort of care and support during their lifetime, the average person would rather visit the dentist than discuss the prospects of financing long-term custodial care. 

The Genworth study reveals that fewer than 30 percent of adults have had a conversation about planning for their long-term care or aging needs. That’s a set-up for financial disaster and family conflict. 

If you worry that things could get tense discussing these issues in advance, just imagine how difficult it would be if one day you have to contact your siblings about chipping in for the cost of Dad’s care, or deciding which of you will take Mom into your home, becoming a caregiver.

Tips for Talk

So how do you bring up these topics without causing a family meltdown? Dr. Nussbaum has some tips:

— Start with the “easiest” family member. If you know Mom is adamant about remaining in the house, ask Dad if he thinks it is getting to be “too much” for her to handle. Ask if he’s planned to get someone to help care for the house — and for Mom.

— Start a conversation about someone else — perhaps a family friend that recently became ill or moved into senior living. Ask Mom how she feels about that person’s situation — and how she might want things handled differently.

— Have a conversation with your siblings to get a feel for how each of you would be able to react, and perhaps help financially, if something were to happen to one of your parents, changing their ability to remain independent. Don’t let the responsibility totally default to one adult child.

Dr. Nussbaum notes this is a two-way conversation. Sometimes parents really want to talk about these topics, but their adult children want to ignore the reality — or fear the burden. Don’t be guilty of “magical thinking” — believing your parents are immortal or invincible.

This conversation is too important to be avoided — and even a brief family meeting over the holidays can bring everyone to the same understanding. It’s the talk that gives a painful reminder of time passing, but gives peace of mind to all generations.

To help get the talk started, you can get my Personal Financial Organizer form at by filling in your name and email address in the yellow box that pops up when you arrive at my website. When you click to “subscribe” to my free newsletter (the mailing list is never shared), you’ll get a return email with a link to the organizer form. You can fill it out online and save it to your computer or print it out and put it in a place where it could be located in an emergency. And feel free to print out as many blank copies as you like, or to share the link with friends and family. 

Giving the organizer form to your adult children at your holiday dinner is a great way to start the talk. It asks questions about your financial plans, your investment and savings accounts, insurance policies and credit cards. Plus it covers those topics you want to avoid: location of your will or living trust, cemetery deed, safe deposit box, etc. Getting organized and filling in the form will serve as a reminder of what’s missing from your plan.

You can make it a wonderful holiday by giving your family the gift of love — and peace of mind — by having “The Talk.” And that’s The Savage Truth.

Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and is on the board of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. She appears weekly on WMAQ-Channel 5’s 4:30 p.m. newscast, and can be reached at She is the author of the new book, “The New Savage

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