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In Part I, we highlighted some of the key insights that emerged from a very ambitious survey of over 5,400 folks (completed in August of 2013) commissioned by Merrill Lynch.[1] That report (“Family & Retirement: The Elephant in the Room”) outlines many ways in which the life and economic wellbeing of Americans over age 50 (we’ll lump them in the category “Boomers”) have been impacted by the hardships and exigencies that have befallen extended members of their family.

The Survey report demonstrates the primary barriers to honest family conversations about finance.
The Survey report demonstrates the primary barriers to honest family conversations about finance.
Merrill Lynch Report: "Family & Retirement: The Elephant in the Room"
Although families need to have honest financial conversations, they avoid them!
Merrill Lynch Study: "Family & Retirement: The Elephant in the Room"

Not surprisingly, one of the special interests Merrill Lynch had in funding the study was discovering areas within which Boomers and their families need assistance with regard to more effective planning for one’s financial future. The most consistent theme within the data uncovered is that human beings have an impressive (and dysfunctional) ability to live in denial. For example, regarding one’s preparation for retirement, just one-third of those surveyed indicated that they feel “well-prepared”… and that was only “if everything goes as they expect”! Further (and of greater concern) only 24% of respondents feel prepared if faced with the death of a spouse. The “denial” related to that topic is the statistical reality that more than 50% of women over age 70 are widowed!

Another societal reality that is easier to ignore is the prospect of an aging parent needing extended Long-Term Care (LTC). Unfortunately, only 37% of Boomer-age adults consider the possibility that she/he will need LTC at some point before death. Unfortunately, statistics suggest that twice as many of them (70%) will need LTC!

With that topic freshly in mind, none of the adults surveyed indicated a willingness (if in need of extended care) to receive care in the home of a family member, and only 2% said they’d be willing to go to a nursing home. More telling, 31% of Boomers pointed to “Being a burden on family” as their greatest worry.

And yet, perfectly illustrating the extent to which Boomers live in denial, fully 66% of the Boomers surveyed confess that they have not done anything to ensure the possibility of LTC without being a burden upon one or more family members!

There are a number of other issues of financial importance for Boomers, including the complications caused by the fact that 37% of Boomers have a “blended family” (inheritance amounts going to children vs. step-children). However, the common factor that amplifies all of these challenges is an utter reluctance to engage in open dialogue about finances, retirement, aging, and LTC. Among adult children over age 25, at least 70% have not any discussion with a parent about any of these matters! The two most commonly given reasons for not talking about these issues are: 1) Fear of family conflict (24%) and 2) the topics are “too uncomfortable to discuss” (19%).

The most obvious “take away” from this study for all of us (of whatever age) is helpfully summarized by David Tyrie, the head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch: “Proactive discussions and coordination with family members can be the difference between smooth sailing and significant hardship when confronting financial challenges leading up to and through retirement. Although many of these topics can be difficult to discuss, there is a clear benefit to having family conversations and planning ahead!”

In light of this clear and present need by families to engage in honest, open dialogue about the future, I have good news for you! Help is available through Sharon Oberlander, who is the managing director at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management in Chicago. Sharon works closely with clients to help facilitate difficult conversations about family finances. Reflecting a growing recognition of the importance of family dialogue, Sharon reports that, during the past year, she has seen a significant increase in the number of families seeking guidance with financial conversations. In order to be a helpful resource, Sharon has developed personalized strategies for her team to help folks initiate such a dialogue. If you want more detailed information, The Oberlander Group can be reached at 312-696-7620.

See the SLIDESHOW for graphs/images related to the survey!

For more information, access the study at

[1] The study was conducted in partnership with Age Wave and executed online through Harris Interactive.

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