Helping Millennial and Xer clients discuss legacy planning with their parents


If you were to compile a list of topics adult children don’t like to discuss with their parents, legacy planning would probably sit near the top. It’s a tricky conversation that can be an emotional landmine. While family dynamics play a role in how these conversations unfold, generational dynamics add a layer of complexity that often is overlooked.

For example, Gen Xers are more likely to avoid the topic because they feel it might be uncomfortable. At the same time, Millennials haven’t discussed legacy planning because they don’t want to think about losing a parent. While Baby Boomers feel the subject is inappropriate to talk about with their children.1

For financial advisors, the first step is to understand the parents’ perspective. Even though Boomers are fast approaching or have already reached retirement age, they still largely exhibit the traits of a generation raging against aging. Many do not think about aging at all. Rather, they focus on living and living well. They want to travel, volunteer and start second careers. They certainly will not be going gently into that good night. Legacy planning may not be top of mind and, furthermore, may be an uncomfortable reminder that aging is a reality.

That said, some Boomers have experienced the difficulties of dealing with their own parents’ finances and health care decisions. Their firsthand understanding of what their kids could experience may make them more open to the legacy conversation.

Use these tips to guide your Xer and Millennial clients.

Be their scapegoat

Give your clients permission to make you the scapegoat. Suggest they tell their parents you recommended the discussion. By doing so, they may avoid difficult conversations sparked by gut-reactions to an uncomfortable situation. This first tip provides your clients a much-needed entry into the conversation.

Prep your clients…and be specific

Equip your clients to guide their parents through a detailed discussion. Give them a clear roadmap so they know where and how to drive the discussion, including:

  • Have their parents identified a health care proxy?
  • Where do they keep their important documents and passwords?
  • Do they have insurance policies?
  • Do they have a detailed will?
  • Within their will, have they assigned inheritors of personal possessions?

Your guidance will appeal to practical Xers who will appreciate going into the conversation knowing exactly where to start and what to ask. And Millennials, who generally tend toward financial illiteracy, will take comfort in entering unfamiliar territory with a lineup of salient conversation points.

Focus on the positive

Boomers saw man land on the moon, participated in rallies and protests, and enacted positive social change on a scale never seen before. As a generation that likes to look on the bright side, Boomers may be put off by a somber approach to legacy planning. Instead, guide your Xer and Millennial clients to launch upbeat conversations that focus on the positive side of planning. As the benefits of planning become clear — philanthropy, trusts for heirs, detailed family history — parents will begin to see the value in expressing their wishes about the legacy they want to leave behind.

It’s not all about the “Benjamins”

Legacy is about more than money and health care directives. For Boomers, a generation that feels like it has changed the world, legacy transcends what’s captured on a signed piece of paper. Yet sometimes, hyper-direct, efficient Xers can focus too much on logistics and paperwork.

In fact, 54% of people want to be remembered by the values they have lived and the lessons they have shared more than material possessions and wealth.2 Remind your clients that legacy discussions are also a great opportunity to reminisce and document family traditions and values.

Heirs shouldn’t be afraid to get personal, not just about finances but about family stories. Sometimes the stories can be the most valuable treasures left behind.

Talking dying will prep for good living

While legacy conversations are technically focused on preparing for the future, they often can have the unexpected benefit of leading people to think about the here and now. How are Boomer parents living? How do they plan to spend the next few decades of their life? Where and how do they want to dedicate their time?

When looking at a legacy plan, Xers and Millennials should come prepared to talk not only about what happens when their parents are gone, but what’s happening right now. This is yet another way to keep the conversation positive and demonstrate that legacy is not just about heirs, but how Boomers can be more purposeful in their lives right now.

Advisors know why legacy planning is necessary. Help your clients understand the importance of having a plan and initiating legacy conversation with their parents. With your coaching, you can help them navigate these tricky discussions that can lead to productive outcomes and eliminate anxiety about the future.

1BMO Wealth Management. (2018, October). The Aging Economy. Improving with Age.

2Ameriprise Financial. (2017, March). Family Wealth Checkup. A multigenerational study on how families talk about money and long-term financial planning.

This information is prepared in part by an unrelated independent third party, BridgeWorks, and is provided for informational purposes only. Ivy Distributors, Inc., believes the information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but does not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided.