Who is Your Alpha Child?

images-1The Allianz Life Insurance Company conducted a study they defined as “The American Legacies Study”. They gathered information by conducting over 2000 interviews with Baby Boomers and their parents. One of the findings their study revealed was the existence of the “Alpha Child.” This is the child that keeps the family connected, who is always the first to make sure that family gatherings occur on a consistent basis, and communicates often with his siblings and parents.

Take a look at your relationship with your own siblings. Who is the Alpha Child in your family? It may be you. Examine your relationship with your parents. If the above listed characteristics describe you, then it is most likely that you are that person. But don’t let your ego get in the way. Be objective in your evaluation of your relationship with your parents and your siblings’ relationship with them. If you are married, discuss it with your spouse and ask for his or her feedback.

It is valuable for you to identify who your Alpha Child is. Who is the child your other children respect? Who is the child that you ask for feedback? Who is the child that acts as a leader in the family?

Once you have identified your Alpha Child its important to have a conversation with him or her, preferably face to face. Share with her what your plans are and the preparations you have made for your retirement years. Discuss your long term care planning. What happens if you or your spouse need care? Will you stay in your home? Will you move? Who will take care of you?

Share your end of life planning with her. I suggest strongly that you fill out “The Five Wishes: available from www.agingwithdignity.org before you do that. It is an extremely valuable tool to clarify your end of life wishes. I call it a living will with soul.

Ask you Alpha Child if he or she will help you organize a family meeting to discuss all of your retirement plans and concerns with the whole family. This meeting will have a life changing impact on your relationship with your children. It is most likely that you have never discussed these issues with your family before. Send me an email at:  (bob@giftofcommunication.com )and I will forward to you “The Seven Steps to Have a Successful Family Meeting”


8 Steps to Having a Successful Family Meeting with Your Elderly Parents

Have a Successful Family Meeting With Your Elderly ParentsA Family Meeting is an excellent way to get the family together to discuss important issues especially those that involve elderly parents. It is very useful to help Mom and Dad decide where they want to live, how to manage their future health care needs, their financial needs and their estate plan.

The meeting should include all of the adult children and both parents if possible. It is important to have a facilitator for the meeting that has no emotional attachment to any decisions which will be made. The Family Meeting is one of the most important steps in parent care planning.

Here are Eight Steps Necessary to have a Successful Family Meeting:

The adult child who is considered the “Alpha Child” or “Family Champion” should enroll everyone in the family to understand the importance of the meeting and secure their promise to be there.

The Facilitator should contact each member of the family in advance to  get to know them and hear their concerns and ideas for the meeting.

The Facilitator, based on conversations with each family member should construct an agenda and distribute it to each of them well in advance of the meeting to get their feedback and help them prepare for the meeting.

Parents should understand that their children are providing ideas and sharing their concerns and not trying to control them. When decisions are made the parents wishes take priority.

Family members should treat each other with respect and compassion. The meeting should be held in the context that the family members love and care for each other.

A family member should be assigned as the scribe, to record important decisions, open items and action items that must be completed.

At the end of the meeting open items and action items should be reviewed and assigned to a family member to be followed up. These tasks should be distributed amongst family members and not lie with just one or two people.

A plan for communication between family members should be established. This method of communication should be used to keep everyone up to date on the status of open items and action items.  

2012 Resolutions for Boomers with Elderly Parents


This is the time every year that we decide what we are going to do differently in the coming year, how we are going to improve, what we are going to stop doing and what we are going to start. I’d to suggest some resolutions that would be very helpful to you and your elderly parents. Here they are;

Take the time to ask your parents how they met. Bring along a tape recorder or video camera and record their answers.

At the same meeting ask them how they want to be remembered by their grandchildren and great grandchildren. Again record their answers.

Schedule a family meeting with your parents, and your siblings to discuss the critical issues that your family will face as your parents get older.

Complete the Five Wishes Questionnaire yourself and then bring copies to your parents for them to complete. You can find this form at www.agingwithdignity.org

Find out where your parents keep all their important papers and make sure they are safe. These important papers should include wills, durable powers of attorney, health care proxies, life insurance policies and beneficiary statements for all annuities and retirement accounts.

Ask your parents to record the names of all bank accounts and investment accounts   that they have. Ask them to include account numbers as well. Have them keep this information in the same place they keep their important papers.

If your parents have online accounts ask them to record the URL addresses of these accounts, their user names and their passwords. Again keep this info in the same place as their important papers.

If you complete these resolutions you will save your family much heartache and anxiety. You will also provide your parents with peace of mind, knowing that they have done the critical planning that will keep their family together.

How to talk with Mom and Dad

Opening up a conversation with your elderly parents about important issues can often be a very stressful and difficult task. You know there are certain things you need to talk to them about but you often fear that they might speculate what your motives are. So how do you open up those conversations without embarrassing yourself and upsetting your parents?

First you must remember that one of their primary concerns ( according to David Solie in hs book, “How to Say it to Seniors” )is maintaining control of their lives. They don’t want to be told that they can’t drive anymore or that they have to move out of their house into a retirement community. Even if these choices are in their best interest they will be very reluctant to comply if they don’t feel that they have made the decision.

But you also need to know that you don’t want to wait until its a crisis to approach your parents. In my 30 years as a financial adviser to hundreds of families, I never saw things go well when families tried to make decisions after a loved one was already in trouble. These situations are fraught with emotion and people don’t often think very clearly when things are unraveling.

Now, while your parents are still healthy ( hopefully) plan out what issues you need to discuss with them before you approach them. Try writing them a letter expressing your concerns and thoughts. Don’t give them the letter but use it as tool to explore your own emotions. Narrow down your concerns to be as specific as possible. What are you anxious about? Enroll the ear of a friend or spouse and read your letter to them. Do they think your concerns are legitimate and worth discussing? Finally, listen to the letter as if you were your parents. Where do you think there will be resistance or stubbornness?

Once you know the focus of your conversation develop an ice breaking phrase that you can use  with your parents. Make sure your questions are open ended and leave room for them to express their opinions. For example,” Mom, recently one of my friends told me her mom was having difficulty keeping up with all the chores around the house. What do you think she should do?” Or, “Dad, can I get your opinion on a couple of things?” Or as simply as “Mom, can we talk?” One of my favorites was “ Dad, how are you enjoying those golden years?”

Your parents probably want to talk about the same concerns you have, but they just don’t want to upset you or mention things that are uncomfortable. They certainly don’’t want to be told what to do. But by easing into the conversation and creating an environment that is safe, you can eliminate a lot of stress for them and yourself. You’ll also give them the opportunity to age with dignity and peace of mind.

Radio Interview on NPR

This past week I had the privilege of being interviewed by Mindy Todd on WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR station. We talked about the importance of baby boomers establishing a dialogue with their parents about financial and legal issues that will affect them and the whole family. Click here to listen: http://streams.wgbh.org/online/cape2/thepoint/point_120810.mp3

The Magic Of The Family Meeting – Part One

Transforming your relationship with your parents about money is not an easy task. With the right tools, though, you can do it. You will be able to discuss issues and topics that were previously off-limits and figure out ways to work in tandem with your parents to improve, modify, or change their financial circumstances. You will have a new sense of freedom in your communication with each other and no longer fear the forbidden topics of money and death.

But to get to this place, you will have to take a series of well-planned steps that require your patience and persistence. The first step is to plan out a Family Meeting to sit down with your parents, review their finances, and help them make plans for their future. This family meeting is an integral part of your new relationship and has a number of different pieces that need to be put in place before the meeting occurs. If these pieces are not prepared properly, the Family Meeting can become a disaster; resulting in hurt feelings, anger, and possibly the breakdown of all financial communication.

The Family Meeting should be planned well in advance to avoid any such nasty surprises. One of the most important things to do first is to identify who amongst the children is most appropriate to coordinate and lead the meeting. This is the child that parents can easily communicate with, the child that they are comfortable discussing their personal affairs with, and the child that has no fear in asking them important questions.

The second person you want to involve in the Family Meeting is one of your parents’ trusted advisors. In your own case, your most trusted advisor might be your financial planner or your accountant. But that might not be true for your parents. In their generation, they might not have had much contact with a financial planner. They may never have used an accountant to prepare their taxes. Take a look at their situation. Who did they turn to when they had a family crisis? Who have they sought out when they had financial questions? That is the person you want. It may be a family lawyer, a local bank executive, or even a minister, rabbi, or priest. The important thing is that your parents are comfortable with them and trust their advice.

The trusted advisor’s role will be to present the idea of the family meeting to your parents and convince them (if necessary) that it is a good idea and will benefit the family. He or she will also share with them a list of topics to be discussed at the meeting.

In Part Two we will discuss the Agenda of the Family Meeting.