2021 In Review

Conversations On Legacy Planning

The holiday season may a perfect time to begin

By Alison Carnie

Ms. Carnie is a principal with Edward Jones. Visit edwardjones.com.

For many, the holidays are a time spent around family, with everyone gathered around the table for great food and warm company. For the sharp financial advisor, this year’s holiday season also provides an opportunity to talk to clients (and their families) about the legacy they hope to leave.

It may seem unusual to focus on end-of-life planning during the holiday season, but there are good reasons it makes more sense this year than any other holiday season in recent memory.

Compelled To Converse

A recent study from Edward Jones, conducted in partnership with Age Wave and The Harris Poll, found the COVID-19 pandemic compelled many Americans to have conversations with close family members about their end-of-life plans and preferences. In fact, the survey found a third of U.S. adults had such conversations since the start of the pandemic, and for 44.5 million Americans, it was the first time they had talked to their family members about end-of-life plans and preferences including finances, health and legal documents.

What’s more, 77% of Americans say the pandemic caused them to refocus on what’s most important in life (including family relationships, as well as physical, mental and financial health), and two-thirds said the pandemic has caused them to think more about the kind of legacy they want to leave to their families. The most important things Americans over 50 want to leave behind for their loved ones are lasting memories from shared experiences (64%), life lessons and values (43%) and an inheritance (32%). While memories and life lessons are unique to every family, there is a role for financial advisors to play in helping people set goals for their financial legacy –something that’s now on many people’s minds for the first time.

The Definition And Dynamics Of Family

Our study found the definition and dynamics of family are also becoming more diverse – from grandparents living in multigenerational households and helping pay for college or school tuition, to “solo agers” (those who are unmarried, but may have families), to more families identifying as LGBT. While every family is unique, the importance of planning and conversations around leaving a legacy is universal.

While the pandemic has driven many people to have conversations about legacy planning, this study identified a significant gap between Americans’ intentions and actions on the subject. For example, more than 70% of respondents over 50 believe a will is the most important document to have in place before someone dies, but only 49% of this group actually has one. And only 19% of people over 50 have completed all three essential end-of-life documents – a will, health care directive (often called a living will), and durable power of attorney.

Long-term care is another concern for many Americans – and many aren’t prepared for it. Our study found more than half of respondents don’t have any plans in place to manage their long-term care needs, while one in 10 have arranged to live with a child or another close family member. Not having plans for long-term care needs is an issue many people need to address, given more than half of all Americans will have moderate to severe long-term care needs in their lifetimes, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. These plans are particularly crucial for women, who, on average, live longer than men, and also have lower retirement savings, according to our study.

The Conversation On Planning

With the pandemic causing many Americans to think about legacy planning, combined with this intention-action gap, this is a time when financial advisors can be of great help to their clients. And the timing makes sense, as legacy planning requires decisions to be made that typically require conversations with family members. Considering many families celebrated the holidays virtually last year, this may be the first time some families are gathering in two years. On top of that, more than 7 in 10 Americans say the pandemic has brought their family closer together, which might make them more likely to engage in sensitive discussions than ever before.

More than 70% of respondents over 50 believe a will is the most important document to have in place before someone dies, but only 49% of this group actually has one...

Such conversations are not without their challenges, of course. Discussions around legacy planning, while very important to have, can be difficult to navigate and make many people uncomfortable. In fact, our research found that three in five U.S. adults say there are barriers to overcome when they attempt to have family discussions around such critical financial topics. The most common of these roadblocks are avoiding family conflicts (22%), attempting to avoid burdening family members with their finances (20%) and being too uncomfortable to discuss these topics (18%).

With all this in mind, it’s a good time for financial advisors to proactively check in with their clients and learn which of them may want help with these discussions in the weeks ahead. Doing so can create opportunities to offer guidance regarding the best ways to engage family members in these sensitive conversations. Alternatively, it may help to offer to host interested clients and act as a facilitator and resource for all involved.

If clients or potential clients are looking to have these conversations at their homes, there are a few tips you can share with them to help make the process a bit easier. It’s a good idea, for example, to set aside some time during family gatherings – away from the dinner table – so people can talk privately with only the family members they deem necessary.

It also helps for people to give their family members advance notice so everyone can be mentally and emotionally ready to talk about end-of-life planning and can arrive with questions already prepared. Doing so will give all family members the opportunity to get in the right frame of mind for these discussions, increasing the chances of a calm and productive conversation.

Involving Generations

It’s possible some people will be pleasantly surprised by how willing other family members are to talk about important things like legacy planning. Our study found more than 60% of people believe involving different generations in key financial decisions has many benefits, and more than 50 million Americans wish their parents and in-laws did a better job of managing their money. Additionally, more than half of Millennials are worried that their parents and in-laws will become financially dependent on them one day. So, if your clients have Millennial children or are Millennials themselves, they may be much more open to legacy planning discussions than anticipated.

Because legacy planning documents often are overlooked, relatively few people are fully prepared. As this is the first time since 2019 that many families might be gathering in person for the holidays, the timing for reaching out to your clients to remind them to discuss this topic is quite good. Clients who do get their end-of-life documents squared away (with the help of an estate-planning attorney) will enjoy a tremendous peace of mind – and they may very well thank you for it.

At Edward Jones, we consider counseling clients in this way to be a fulfillment of our purpose; hopefully, it aligns with yours as well. The circumstances are right for engaging clients in a conversation about it, and it’s an opportunity to show clients your value as a financial advisor. Be sure not to let it pass by.




Edward Jones, its employees and financial advisors are not estate planners and cannot provide tax or legal advice. You should consult your estate-planning attorney or qualified tax advisor regarding your situation.