Northern Trust Institute President Pamela Lucina discusses planning considerations for couples without children.
The shape of the modern family continues to quicky evolve, with correspondent ramifications for wealth planning.
Amid other notable trends, couples are, increasingly, making the decision to not have children — a recent Pew Research Center study found that 44% of adults age 18-49 say they are not likely to have children, a figure up 7% from a study in 2018.1 While every family’s journey is unique, couples without children can benefit from giving due consideration to several specific areas of planning.
We spoke to Northern Trust Institute President Pamela Lucina about planning considerations for couples without children and how Northern Trust is positioned to address evolving family dynamics.
Children are traditionally a significant focus of wealth planning. How is Northern Trust ensuring that it’s equipped to meet the changing needs of families in 2023?
Every client is unique. Our goal is to always deliver personalized advice tied to an individual or family’s goals, and we emphasize that we should never assume to know anyone’s goals based upon their gender or any other demographic. Equally important, the solutions we offer should not be based upon our preconceived assumptions. This is why we train our advisors, prior to working toward a solution, to step back and ask questions to determine what we are actually solving. The questions should be open-ended in nature. For example, rather than ask “Do you have a family?” we say, “Tell me about your family.” Then, importantly, we conduct deep listening, ensuring that we accurately record each client’s unique desires, wishes and fears.
At the same time, we strive to be aware of potential biases — and really careful not to make assumptions under any circumstances. For example, in society at large, women are often viewed as mothers more than men are as fathers. And some may assume that for a woman to have a full life they must have children. This seems to be becoming less prevalent as more prominent women speak up, but the bias still exists.
Women who don’t have children thus often feel like they have to explain their choices, and may even be pegged as selfish for not having kids. Culturally, we strive to never assume or question a decision. You don’t know the reason someone doesn’t have children; it may be a personal preference, or it may be a medical reason. In either case, it is very likely none of our business. Our role is to provide structures to support these decisions.
Preparing for care as you age is an area of planning where couples without children may diverge from those with children. What should be top of mind for these couples as they build plans for this stage of life?
There can be unique considerations for those without children in this arena. Purchasing long-term care insurance can be part of the solution, but know that it can be costly and should be done well in advance in order to ensure insurability. Another strategy is to “self-insure” by setting aside adequate savings to hire professionals to help you navigate eldercare when the time comes. As you age, you will want to work with your advisors to move those funds into the “risk-control” bucket of your portfolio — that is, assets that are more liquid and less volatile. This positions you to fund your care needs without having to liquidate the assets at potentially depressed prices, such as during a weak point in the market cycle.
Couples without children also need to determine who can act as their power of attorney for property and health care, especially if there is no surviving spouse that is able to act. With a power of attorney for property, you decide in advance who is going to make financial decisions for you. With a healthcare power of attorney, you decide who can make important healthcare decisions if you cannot. It is also helpful to have a living will, which spells out your intentions if you are on life support or have a terminal condition, and can give direction to your agent.
How can legacy planning for couples without children differ from planning for those with children?
When we discuss all of these issues, it’s important to distinguish between “childless” and “childfree” — the former may currently be childless, but may have children in the future. “Childfree” individuals and couples have decided never to have children. In some cases, childfree couples may benefit from more structured dialogue with your advisors to refine your vision for legacy and the people and causes you wish to support. The most important step in either situation, though, is to have a will and plan in place, especially in the event that there is no surviving spouse.
The key is to start conversations well-in-advance. For many, those conversations ultimately center around supporting philanthropic causes, siblings, other family members such as nieces and nephews, or even pets. We often establish trusts for the benefit of loved ones or causes, and life insurance can also play a role. Again, though, it’s important to start sooner rather than later: There is often nuance that merits discussion. For instance, it may be beneficial to leave an inheritance directly to nieces and nephews, rather than passing through their parents’ estate. You’ll want to make sure that is communicated appropriately.
How else do you ensure that plans are built to adapt to changing families?
We start with the premise that every asset serves a purpose. Rather than viewing accounts as one diversified portfolio that requires you to tell us your “risk tolerance,” our approach matches your financial assets with your unique goals and objectives — so that your plan is a true reflection of the purpose underlying your assets. This is a much more tailored approach, one that conforms to the specific wishes and desires of an individual or family, and not built upon preconceived and outdated assumptions.
This interview has been adapted from “When Children Are Not Part of the Plan – with Pamela Lucina” on the Flexible Advisor podcast.