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Help your children make a great plan for their lives

See our tips for speaking with—and empowering—adult children and grandchildren

It’s graduation season and summertime, when many families come together. That makes it a good time to talk with your young adult children about their future financial and professional plans.

This conversation covers some challenging topics for some. Do your children/grandchildren know what kinds of expenses you want to cover, would rather not cover and simply will not cover for them? Have you discussed the financial behaviors you want them to cultivate as they enter adulthood? Have you told them how you will help them learn these skills—or get them help to?

Here’s some advice on how to communicate with young adults about family finances, your expectations and their potential paths in life—and how to handle it when there’s a clear disconnect between a child’s plans and the purposes you’ve laid out for your family wealth.

The bedrock: Demonstrating your values

Communicate early and regularly about career goals, passions and interests—and make known the responsibilities expected of your children or grandchildren.

Guiding young adults isn’t always easy. The bedrock is demonstrating your values because values are caught, not taught. Consider how your family’s fundamental beliefs and principles can anchor your children/grandchildren, now and in the future. Discuss your approach to philanthropy and your insights and values around financial management, investing, being entrepreneurial—or whatever you want them to learn.

You’ll want them to see you being philanthropic, managing wealth, investing and being entrepreneurial. Include them in your activities so they can witness how you approach what’s important to you—firsthand. You should especially demonstrate that these values guide how you make decisions.

It’s also often helpful to share family history: Tell the story of the people who came before. Discuss how exactly your family wealth was created. Be as open as you can about struggles, yours and previous generations’. How were obstacles overcome? Not? Why were some paths taken and not others?

Stories are far more powerful than statements. The act of telling them distills what matters, and the act of sharing them creates bonds.

What if you’ve told the family story and articulated your core family values? How do you help your children/grandchildren put those into action? How do you help them find their way—even if it's different from yours?

Helping young adults develop a plan for the future aligned with family values

Here are four steps families have found to be helpful:

1. Try being open to the idea of different careers or life choices—without judgment

If you reflexively disagree with a young adult’s idea, it often helps to distance yourself from the emotion of being a parent by simply imagining you are speaking with a mentee. That way, when your young adult floats the idea of drifting across the world for two years or opening a risky small business, you won’t overreact.

Opening a traveling tattoo parlor may sound like a bad idea for your kid, but if someone else you knew was passionate and had an exceptional business plan, would you encourage them to give it a shot? Start an ongoing dialogue. You’ll create some space to respond rationally and ask the question in step two.

2. Ask them why

Ask your child/grandchild a simple question: “Why?” Why are they thinking about (or planning to do) X? What’s their goal, purpose, hope? What else have they considered?

Ask without judgment and truly listen, with an open mind, to their answers.

This process helps them articulate their “why,” to spell out their reasons, purpose, goals and values. Trust that they will be able to see whether their choices actually support their goals. Articulating and communicating their reasons can scrub away extraneous emotions and make sure they’re not just acting on a whim like a teenager, but more seriously like a young adult. They will also be able to see how their lived values align, or don’t, with your family’s values.

3Write a plan—together

Your tech nerd wants to drop out of college and found a startup. Your aspiring actor wants to skip college and go to Hollywood. Whatever the dream, help them by having them outline their goals, and dive into the details—all the steps and finances involved—being very clear about what backing you are willing to provide and for how long. Go over the timeline, some real-world expectations and strategy. Help them identify the gaps where support is needed and who might provide it. Help them think about their strengths and weaknesses, their network and connections.

Then write the plan, as detailed as possible. A written plan creates accountability and avoids misunderstandings. It may become a living document, revisited and evolving over time.

Going through this process together strengthens your relationship, builds trust and reinforces the role of values, goals and planning in using and preserving the family wealth.

4. Check in with them regularly

Set a schedule to check in regularly on how you are both doing against the plan, and whether it needs revising.

Agree in advance on what might constitute success. Define timelines and set them in stone. A written timeline pre-commits the child to the urgency of a schedule without too much oversight. They’re allowed to find their own way.

Guiding recent graduates requires parents to be open-minded to their children’s ideas while pushing them to articulate their reasons and lay out a plan for success. Whether you accept their plan or not is up to you. But along the way, the conversation about money, purpose, planning and family values will benefit everyone.

We can help

Looking at finances helps all of us make our goals concrete, a crucial step to achieving them. One of the things we do is help families think through these questions. Your J.P. Morgan team can work with you and your adult child or grandchild to develop a goals-based plan that helps them get a good start in life.


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