Conversations may be difficult but can help avoid loose ends.

Ready or not, the holidays are here. With the Jewish high holidays behind us and Thanksgiving knocking on the door, there will be lots of family interaction and visits with nearly everyone you love and care about. The holidays may be a tough time to talk shop, but they also represent a chance to uncover family financial matters that need help or to air questions that should be discussed openly.


These conversations with parents can be difficult. The topics may make you or your parents uncomfortable - but they need to happen at some point. I've had clients surprised by some of the situations and loose ends that have occurred in their parents' financial lives.


The questions that you'd like to have answered by your aging parents are not difficult, but evaluating the answers may be more challenging than you think. Some of the questions may be: Do you have a current will? When was it signed? Who is the executor? Your parents' understanding of a current will may be one signed over 10 years ago. Laws have changed, and the existing will may not be appropriate. The choice of executor is frequently a surprise to the person named, and sometimes all the children are listed as co-executors.


What protection do you have for a potential long-term illness or injury? Without long-term-care insurance or advanced Medicaid-type of planning where you may give up control to some or all of your assets, this risk is real, and typically something that children deal with way too late in their parents' aging.


How do you own your accounts? Are they owned jointly or in each person's name individually? The most common response is joint ownership. Joint ownership is OK for very small estates, but as soon as you exceed the federal or state exemption amount, joint property may cost them estate tax dollars.


Who are the named beneficiaries on retirement accounts or insurance benefits? Do all the children have stable personal and financial situations? Do you need to put assets in trust or other protected mode?


Of course, this discussion could go on forever but these few questions should get Mom or Dad to open up and get the ball rolling.


John P. Napolitano is the CEO of U.S. Wealth Management in Braintree, Mass. He may be reached at jnap@uswealthcompanies.com.