How to Break the Ice Around Family Finances

Money is one of the trickiest topics to discuss. But avoiding the conversation can lead to problems. Learn how to start the dialogue with your family.

What's the hardest thing to talk about? Death, religion, politics? Would it surprise you to know that one of the most difficult things to discuss is money? When polled, 44% of Americans claimed that personal finance was the hardest to discuss – beating out politics and even death.1

Perhaps this is because money represents more than a topic – it can represent control, power, embarrassment, insecurity, fear. For some people, the hesitation stems from a natural reluctance to confront their own mortality or their potential for future disability. For others, avoiding the topic is caused by the perception that planning is associated with complicated—and expensive—legal and tax issues.

Silence Can Be Harmful

Avoiding these sometimes difficult conversations can have detrimental outcomes and unexpected consequences for your family, such as:

Passing On Bad Habits - Talking to your children about money now can help them avoid mistakes in the future. The key is to talk about what money means to you and why you worked hard to achieve your success. It involves being open about the challenges and responsibilities that accompany wealth – including what you might have wished you'd done differently when younger. And, most important, it's about your values and what you wish for yourself and your children to accomplish with your privilege. The conversation can serve as an empowering first step to forming a healthy relationship with wealth.

Lost Opportunities - It's never too early for your children to understand the value of creating a wealth plan that takes family members' needs into account. Family members may not be aligned on priorities, such as long-term health care needs, charitable giving and generational gifting strategies, and taking the time to establish common goals is the first step in understanding how all members can participate in achieving them.

The reality is that 70% of families lose their wealth by the second generation.2 Lack of communication can ultimately lead to misunderstandings and divergent objectives that could jeopardize your legacy and work against your values.

Costly Procrastination - Perhaps the hardest of conversations to have as an adult is with your aging parents. This is where the danger of putting it off grows exponentially. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, 70% of people over 65 will require some long-term care at some point in their lives.[i] Once a crisis hits, it's often too late. Now is the time to determine if sufficient long-term health care plans have been made, as well as who will make financial decisions on your parents' behalf if they lose the ability to safely handle their money. Proper planning gives you time to discuss your decisions with family members. This open communication can help to reduce, if not eliminate, the risk of family discord, resentment or conflict.

Having a hard time starting a conversation about family finances? Here are a few questions that can make it easy for you.

Align Your Goals with Strategies for Reaching Them

Morgan Stanley's goals-based wealth planning framework strives to guard against more than just market volatility. We believe that a successful planning strategy must meet the following criteria:

  • Your plan should be customized to reflect what you care about most. It should address both the goals you hope to achieve and the risk of outliving your assets.

  • Your plan should address the shifting nature of issues and unknowns you face at different stages of your life and consider risks beyond market volatility, like inflation.

  • Your plan should seek to mitigate judgment and behavioral risks such as panic selling in difficult markets or overspending.

Smash the Taboo

We know it's hard. Sitting down to discuss your parents' long-term health needs or checking in with your siblings to see if you are all on the same page relating to any inheritance isn't easy. What about your children; do they value the same causes that have moved you all your life? Is your spouse prepared should something happen to you?

The tough part is getting started, and that's where bringing in an objective financial professional can help. We understand that wealth is about much more than just money, and can guide the conversation down those difficult paths to uncover the things that matter most to you and your family. We don't believe in having a single conversation, but rather a series of talks that shift as your life changes. It's a road. And you don't have to travel it alone.

It starts with family, but doesn't have to end there. We are ready to provide the guidance, tools and information that can help you tackle these difficult topics and transform them into meaningful discussions for your future.


1 Reuters, The Last Taboo – Why Nobody Talks About Money; March 2014

2 Money Magazine, 70% of Rich Families Lose Their Wealth by the Second Generation; June 2015

3 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,


This material does not provide individually tailored investment advice. It has been prepared without regard to the individual financial circumstances and objectives of persons who receive it. The strategies and/or investments discussed in this material may not be suitable for all investors. Morgan Stanley Wealth Management recommends that investors independently evaluate particular investments and strategies, and encourages investors to seek the advice of a Financial Advisor. The appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor's individual circumstances and objectives.

Morgan Stanley offers a wide array of brokerage and advisory services to its clients, each of which may create a different type of relationship with different obligations to you. Please consult with your Financial Advisor to understand these differences.

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