Demystifying Estate and Long-Term Planning: A Conversation with Eleanor from Familial

Apr 23, 2024

Silvia de Denaro Vieira

Many of us consider estate planning something only the wealthy need to think about. But the truth is, it's for everyone. We sat down with Eleanor, the Founder & CEO of Familial, a holistic long-term planning app, to learn more about the importance of estate and long-term planning for all.

As baby boomers retire and the "great wealth transfer" begins, the need for these conversations becomes more urgent. However, navigating these discussions can be daunting. Eleanor shares invaluable insights into common pitfalls, overlooked aspects, and practical strategies to approach long-term planning. From asset management to family conversations, her expertise simplifies a topic many find overwhelming. We learned a lot from her and hope that you will, too!

Silvia: Eleanor, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. Let’s start at the beginning. Can you share a little bit about what actually is estate and long-term planning and who is it meant for? 

Eleanor: That's a great question. I'm glad we're starting there because estate planning is a buzzword that you hear a lot and folks don't think it applies to them. I talk with families every day and they often think estate planning is just for the wealthy, for those who have many properties. But estate planning really is for everyone. Estate is just a legal term for “what do you own?”

Long-term planning is a broader term that we use a lot at Familial because we are a holistic long-term planning app. When we talk about long-term planning we're thinking about things like healthcare planning, understanding how a household works, having conversations with loved ones, and incorporating a collaborative approach by talking with your adult children. Familial is focused on older and retired folks, but estate planning is really for everyone, especially if you have dependents such as children and even pets.

Silvia: I'm so glad you debunked that because I definitely fell into that category of people who believed that myth. Can you shed a bit of light on what's going on right now? How are circumstances for this generation different to how people did things in the past?

Eleanor: We're at a really unusual time where the baby boomers are all retiring so we're in a moment they call the "great wealth transfer". What that means is that as baby boomers are aging into retirement and the oldest baby boomers, who are in their 60s, 70s, 80s, are starting to pass away or have significant health concerns. Meanwhile, the adult children of those baby boomers, who generally waited a bit longer to start families, are raising young children. So what we're seeing is a sandwich generation: folks who are raising their children at the same time as their parents are aging being hit from both sides.

The sandwich generation refers to middle-aged adults who are trying to keep their nuclear family on track, which I know Coexist is supporting with, while their parents are starting to think about things like estate planning (or should be). We have this other interesting dynamic where more and more families are living apart. The rise of the sun belt where retirees are moving to, while the nuclear families are living in urban bubbles: bicoastal, midwest, etc. So there is a literal geographical gap, which makes it even more challenging to collaborate on a topic like estate planning. 

Another remarkable statistic is that 10,000 Americans are retiring every single day. A lot of people are aging into this, and pretty soon after retirement, healthcare becomes something you want to think about. The adult children might not be able to be beside their parents as they're going through this important next stage and we're looking for ways to help them through that. 

Silvia: Wow, 10,000 people a day, that's a crazy stat! You hit the nail on the head with how a lot of people are already feeling the weight of the mental load from managing their day-to-day responsibilities. This longer-term planning is beyond overwhelming for some people and it can be daunting to start those conversations with their parents. From your experience, what are fundamental things we should be considering and prioritizing when it comes to managing these responsibilities?

Eleanor: It's a tough spot for adult children where they might see that their parents are not very well prepared. We're talking about something that is incredibly sensitive. It's really personal and challenging to even face mortality - these are heavy topics and it’s understandable why anyone would avoid it. It takes a certain type of person to be able to take this head on. What’s nice is that there are adult children who recognize that and who can be the stewards for their parents. However, first thing's first, no one will do anything that they don't want to do, and that will be true no matter what. The question is, how can we make some things easier or more approachable? 

What we've done at Familial is broken down these topics into smaller pieces to make them more approachable. So for example, if you're an adult child, maybe your parents will not think about legal documents. They don't want to talk to a lawyer, or work with an online legal service provider, or talk about their money. Maybe those are not conversations they want to have. Maybe, instead, they're more willing to talk about their healthcare plans. Or they want to tell you about their art or jewelry collections or share family stories. Depending on the person, it can take different approaches. And it's probably not going to be just one conversation. 

If your parents have not engaged on this topic before, it might take years to get them onboard, and over the course of that time you can try bringing this up in different ways. Bring up examples like a friend or family member who’s had something gone wrong with their long-term planning. Some of those first- or second-person stories are so powerful because the anguish, time, and money lost are often preventable with enough proactive planning. 

The other tactic I've seen work well is for you to go first. If your parents are not willing to work with a lawyer or engage on this topic, sometimes it works to say, “hey, here's what I'm doing for my family. Here's the estate plan I started to put in place. I want to let you know that I have these important files and I want to get you involved in this.” And they can learn from you going first, which is nice. Ultimately, every family has a different dynamic and a different way of communicating. It often will require trying multiple approaches until you find one that lands with your family. 

Silvia: That resonates a lot. As you mentioned, it can be such a delicate topic and people will have different priorities, right? I love that your vision for this is not one size fits all. I wanted to double click on something you mentioned: navigating these conversations can sometimes go wrong. What are some common pitfalls or things that tend to be overlooked? And how can adult children help their parents avoid these things while not adding more mental burden to the planning process?

Eleanor: 100% yes. There are a lot of common pitfalls. A little bit of backstory on why I started Familial: it was after my own family's experience with long-term planning and estate planning, which was not very proactive, and ultimately resulted in a ton of emotional anguish and time lost. I was talking about our experience with friends and other family members, and I kept hearing other problems different to what we experienced that I had not even thought of. So a lot of what we've done in our product is design around some of those common pitfalls. 

One common pitfall is that people often don’t have the important conversations. For example, if you are lucky enough to have a legal estate plan, something like a will or living trust, oftentimes you are appointing a power of attorney, executor, or trustee. Generally, those roles tend to be your adult children. But there's a big disconnect between a parent choosing an adult child and actually sharing with them that they were chosen. Also, some of the sibling dynamics can be tricky if one child was chosen for one thing and their sibling for another, or maybe one child was not chosen for any appointed role. Those conversations around who is being chosen and the why, the context, which can do so much to alleviate the relationship strain amongst siblings are often not being had. That's a big pitfall we see. 

Another one is around the complexity of financial assets. Today, we have many assets, providers, institutions, and we don't have a paper trail to give us the North Star of what someone's financial life looks like. So, we developed an asset inventory at Familial which allows users to be prompted across a very thorough list of assets to capture things like an old 401k or a timeshare that otherwise might get lost. Five million Americans own a timeshare, but the information around that is often lacking or disorganized. So just capturing what you own and where it is can save your loved ones hours upon hours, and hopefully save the asset from being lost altogether. I can't even imagine what it will look like once our generation, with all our crypto and NFTs, age into this - that will be a nightmare. Hopefully we'll have figured it out by then. 

Another pitfall is thinking that estate planning as only the finances. Oftentimes estate planning is not just about inheritance, it's not just about the next generation. It's actually about keeping the spouses in alignment if you're married or partnered. For example, oftentimes in marriage, responsibilities are divided, as you know with Coexist. If that institutional knowledge around things like how utility bills are paid or what subscriptions you have is not captured, if someone were to end up in the hospital unexpectedly it can be hard to keep the lights on. A lot of what we've tried to do is capture those pieces that fall through the cracks because they're not traditionally considered as part of the estate plan.

Silvia: Absolutely, there's so much to think about! Last question I have for you is: for anyone watching or reading this who, like me, is suddenly realizing that they might need to have some conversations and set some plans in motion, what are some practical strategies or tools you found helpful?

Eleanor: Ultimately from what we've seen within families, it often boils down to one party being more willing and ready than another. Whether it's the adult child or the retired parent or one spouse or another, there often is an imbalance between who is actually ready to start doing these things and ready to engage with it. So what we've learned is that tools take the burden off of one person really leaning in and leading those conversations. In Familial, for example, we have conversation guides within our app. So instead of you having to prompt a question, an individual can look at that question and voice record an answer. They don't even need to have the conversation live, we reduce the friction and the barriers to entry.  In general, what we've seen is people do really like to leverage third parties. 

There was also recently a Wall Street Journal article about this type of planning, the pieces of the puzzle that are not covered by a lawyer that are about families doing the work together. I heard some Familial users used that article as a way to kickstart the conversation by sending that article to their parents as a way of saying, “Hey, this is a good article and this is something we should probably be doing.”  I think more than anything, it's really about pointing out the best practices and trying to leverage experts or tools or articles, that highlight that this is a conversation you should be having. 

It's really hard, and more than anything we want to feel like we're being taken care of. We don't want to feel like we're nagging or any other emotion that can just lead to conflict and anguish. Luckily, we're at a moment now where we are starting to get the tools that I think families have been craving for years and years.

Silvia: Absolutely. l'm so excited for what you're building. Thank you for sharing all this with us. I know I've learned a lot - good luck on your journey!

Eleanor: Thank you and thank you for what you are doing. Together we're helping families left and right!

Familial is a holistic long-term planning app. Their mission is to help as many families as possible by making life and estate planning more collaborative and proactive. The Coexist community gets a 20% discount with the code COEXIST20. Learn more and sign up through their website: