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What Millennials Wish Their Boomer Parents Would Tell Them

A Fidelity survey finds a few things adult kids really wanna know


Boomer parents: Your Millennial kids are willing to offer assistance, when needed, as you age, but you need to do a better job now telling them what you may need them to do someday.

That’s my take on the new Fidelity Investments Family & Finance Study, a fascinating survey the financial firm conducts every two years, asking questions about personal finances, estate planning and caregiving.

“Parents not wanting to be a burden on their kids has often translated into thinking they can’t ask for help,” said John Sweeney, Fidelity’s executive vice president of retirement and investing strategies. But, Sweeney said, the survey found “the kids are willing to step in and help.”

92 percent of parents say one of their kids might handle long-term caregiver duties, but 40 percent of the kids tapped to fill the role didn’t know it

Fidelity interviewed 1,273 parents age 55+ (who had investable assets of at least $100,000 and a child older than 25) and 221 adult children older than 25 with money in an IRA, 401(k) or another investment account; the adult kids 30 and older needed to have at least $10,000 saved.

The Money Gulf Between Parents and Their Adult Kids

Consider these findings:

  • 93 percent of parents felt it would be unacceptable to become financially dependent on their children, but just 30 percent of adult kids felt that way
  • 92 percent of parents expect one of their children will be the executor of their estate, but 27 percent of the kids identified as filling this role didn’t know it
  • 72 percent of parents expect one of their kids will handle long-term caregiver responsibilities for their mom or dad in retirement if need be, but 40 percent of the kids identified as filling that role didn’t know that, either
  • 69 percent of parents expect one of their kids will help manage his or her folks’ investments and finances some day, but 36 percent of the kids identified as filling this role didn’t know it
  • 69 percent of parents also think they’ve had detailed conversations with their children about wills and estate planning, but 52 percent of kids say they haven’t
  • 43 percent of parents have not had detailed conversations with family members about long-term care and elder care; another 23 percent haven’t had any conversations on these topics at all

The parents also don’t seem to be taking the prospects of their potential future long-term care needs as seriously as their kids think they should, either: 72 percent of the children surveyed think their parents should be tackling the issue of long-term care and elder care, but only 41 percent of their parents say they actually are.

Parents: Getting More Prepared for Retirement

A few pieces of encouraging news, likely tied to the improving economy:

  • 86 percent of families now agree that the parents will live a comfortable retirement, up from 72 percent in 2014
  • 55 percent of parents now describe themselves as “prepared” for retirement, up from 48 percent just two years ago
  • And 45 percent of parents are now “accumulating more savings for retirement,” far higher than the 34 percent who said so in 2012

I should note that when I wrote about the last Fidelity intra-family survey, in 2014, there was also a sizable gulf between what the parents and adult kids thought about how well the older generation was doing talking with their children about their estate and retirement plans. At the time, I called it “the new Generation Gap.”

Now, it’s not so new.

The biggest difference between then and now? “The kids want more specificity. They want to get into the weeds,” said Sweeney. “The kids are ready to hear it and they want to know it and are not well served by not knowing.”

What You Don’t Have to Reveal

A key reason the Millennials aren’t hearing about their parents’ expectations and thoughts about their retirements, estate plans and potential caregiving needs is that the boomer mothers and fathers fear they’d need to reveal details about their personal finances.

“The parents don’t want to talk about how much they have and where they have it,” said Sweeney.

But you don’t have to open your investment kimono.

What you can and should talk about are: where your financial records are (and how your adult kids can get to them when they need to) plus who your financial advisers are (and how your children can contact them if, and when, that’s necessary).

The survey found about 30 percent of families disagreed on whether the children knew where to find important family documents such as wills, power of attorney (providing authorization to manage your finances if you can’t) and health care proxies.

Yet access to these types of documents is critically important. One in nine Americans 65 or older has Alzheimer’s; at age 85, it’s one in three.

“If the adult children will need to help their parents pay their bills or manage their investments, they’ve got to know what’s out there and where it is,” said Sweeney. “It is not easy to step into this role if you haven’t been exposed to these things and if you have no access to the documents.”

You don’t have to share the particulars of the holdings in your individual accounts, Sweeney added. “We encourage talking without the numbers. Then, as the time comes, if you’re ready to share information about the accounts, do. But don’t let this be an impediment to starting conversations,” he said.

When’s the right time to begin those conversations? Any time. Maybe over this Fourth of July weekend, if you’ll be with your family.

“It’s always too early to talk about finances — until it’s too late,” said Sweeney. “The families who feel the most comfortable are the ones who have these conversations early and often and revisit their decisions on a regular basis.”

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