By Ayo Mseka
One-third of U.S. adults (33%) report that the pandemic triggered conversations with close family members about their end-of-life plans and preferences, according to a new study from Edward Jones in partnership with Age Wave and Harris Poll.
For 44.5 million Americans (18%), these were first-time discussions about topics such as finances, health and legal plans.
“The pandemic has been a real wake-up call for many Americans, with our study finding that due to the pandemic, a third of adults had conversations with close family members about their end-of-life plans and preferences,” noted Alison Carnie, principal at Edward Jones. “I believe the increased focus on family is a huge part of this. According to the research, 71% of Americans say the pandemic has brought their family closer together. This closeness and extended quality time together, on top of the frightening realities of the pandemic, have likely brought to the forefront the need for these conversations.”
These conversations that Americans are having with their loved ones come at an opportune time, as 66% of Americans surveyed also reported that the pandemic has made them think more about the kind of legacy they want to leave to their families.
Lasting memories from shared experiences (64%), life lessons and values (43%) and an inheritance (32%) are the most important things Americans 50+ wish to leave behind for loved ones. And the three most important end-of-life documents are a will, a health care directive/living will, and a durable power of attorney, Carnie noted.
Roadblocks To Family Discussions
Although the pandemic is prompting a good number of Americans to have end-of-life discussions with their loved ones, many still find it difficult to have them. Carnie offers some reasons for this reluctance.
“While it’s different for everyone, the topic of end-of-life can generally be an uncomfortable and upsetting one to discuss,” she said. “According to our study, the top three roadblocks to having these family discussions about important financial topics are avoiding family conflicts, attempting to avoid burdening family members with finances, and being too uncomfortable to discuss the topics. This is where financial advisors can be particularly helpful in facilitating these conversations and helping families understand the importance of planning ahead.”
Intention Vs Action
The study also illuminated the gap between Americans intending to take action and actually taking action to put plans in place. While a majority of Americans ages 50+ (71%) believe having a will in place is the most important action to take before someone dies, yet only 49% actually have a will. Also, only 19% of adults 50+ have all three essential end-of-life documents in place: a will, health care directive/living will and designated power of attorney.
In addition to these crucial documents, long-term care is one of the biggest considerations that Americans are not prepared for, according to the study. More than half of Americans 50+ (51%) do not have any long-term care plans in place, while one in 10 (10%) have arranged to live with a child or another close family member.
So what can advisors do to encourage clients to have these end of-life conversations with their loved ones?
“Throughout the process of discussing estate strategy with their clients, financial advisors have a unique opportunity to not only encourage their clients to have end-of-life discussions with their loved ones, but also actually help facilitate those difficult discussions,” Carnie said. “Particularly given the events of the past couple of years, financial advisors can underscore the importance of long-term and end-of-life planning and highlight how it can help reduce the stress and burden on loved ones in the long run.”
The nationally representative survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Edward Jones and Age Wave from August 12-16, 2021, among 2,020 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. Results were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.
Ayo Mseka has more than 30 years of experience reporting on the financial-services industry. She formerly served as Editor-In-Chief of NAIFA’s Advisor Today magazine. Contact her at amseka@INNfeedback.com.