Speaking to your children (the older ones) about money

S.F. Ehrlich Associates |

August 15, 2019

We’ve previously written about helping young children to learn about charity and savings. Those lessons can be life-long, and life-changing, and they shouldn’t stop. 

As the New York Times1 points out in an article titled “The Birds and the Bees. Why Not Bequests? Parents will talk to their children about drugs or sex, but often won’t discuss inheritance,” we often limit the lessons we teach our children, especially our adult children.

A study by Merrill Private Wealth Management revealed four reasons why “two-thirds of Americans who have at least $3 million in wealth have not talked to their children about their wealth or never will…”

  • “(P)arents do not want inheritance to rob children of motivation.” Some parents don’t want their kids to know what they have so that knowledge doesn’t derail their career path. But what if they take a career path that pays less because they assume they’ll inherit their retirement money at some point in the future? Shouldn’t they know if any of that money is ultimately going to them?
  • “Talking will worsen your anxiety.” As the title of the article suggests, we’ve all talked to our kids about sex, drugs, and drinking. If you feel anxious talking about money, all your kids have to do is look around your house (or cars, or vacation destinations) to conclude that you’re in pretty good financial shape. (Zillow can provide an estimate of how much your house is worth, and they can probably calculate your salary thanks to Google.)
  • “No one ever had the talk with you.” Sharing your feelings about money is a good place to start a family conversation, especially if you never had that kind of conversation when you were a child. In fact, how many times have you heard the opposite story; stories about adult children learning how little money their parents had until the adult children had to start paying their parents’ bills when their elderly parents ran out of money?
  • “You don’t come from legacy wealth.” When families pass generational wealth on to the next generation, talking about money is what they do. They want the next generation to be thoroughly knowledgeable and educated about the wealth they’re destined to receive. Thus, even if you don’t have legacy wealth, the last thing you should want is for your children to unexpectedly inherit money and then act like they just won the lottery. If you look at the statistics, many lottery winners ultimately go bust because they had no idea how to handle their newfound wealth, and your children may follow the same path unless they’re taught otherwise.

Talking about money with your children may not be easy, and may even require the assistance of a professional to get it right (Hint: we’re here to help). But not talking about your money may ultimately prove far worse.


1 Sullivan, Paul. “The Birds and the Bees. Why Not Bequests?” The New York Times, 3 Aug. 2019, p. B5.
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