Talking about money with siblings: Beyond rivalry

Insights from the Ameriprise Financial Family Wealth Checkup study

Key Points

  • Nearly two-thirds of siblings talk about money with each other
  • While financial conflicts are rare, they usually involve issues regarding parents
  • Uniting to deal with money issues can help protect family assets

Talking about money with immediate family members is not always an easy conversation to initiate. Why? For starters, the conversation can be emotional as sibling money discussions often center around their parents’ estate and health issues. Topics around inheritance and caretaking responsibilities have the potential to revive long-dormant rivalries or inflame old resentments.

Despite those challenges, an Ameriprise survey finds that 65% of U.S. adult siblings do talk to each other about money. What topics do siblings tend to discuss — and avoid? What causes conflicts between them, and how do they compare when it comes to money management?

Ameriprise explored these questions and more in our Family Wealth Checkup study.

What are siblings talking to each other about?

While most U.S. siblings talk about finances with each other, they don’t do so very often. The study found that less than 10% discuss money matters on a regular basis. And when they do talk, the most common topic is how other family members handle their finances (58%).

Some subjects come up in conversations less often, perhaps because of their sensitive or personal nature. For example, 66% of all siblings have never discussed life insurance.

“You can understand why such issues can be difficult or uncomfortable to discuss,” Marcy Keckler, CRPC®, CFP®, vice president, financial advice strategy at Ameriprise Financial. “Still, open and honest financial communication about money among family members can be productive for everyone involved. One of the best ways to make that happen is to simply listen and take a non-judgmental approach, one that won’t make your sibling feel threatened or embarrassed.”

Does sibling rivalry really exist?

While 57% of people say they deal with financial decisions differently from their sibling(s), only 15% report having conflicts with them over money. In other words, the notion of sibling rivalry — at least when it comes to finances — appears largely overblown.

But when they do disagree, it usually involves their parents. Nearly 70% of sibling money quarrels focus on such issues as:

  • How an inheritance gets divided
  • Which child provides more support for their parents
  • Whether parents are fair in their financial support of the children

The good news: 61% of all siblings will talk through their financial differences, but those conversations don’t necessarily mean smooth sailing. Only 33% of issues get settled as a result of the talk, and 28% remain unresolved.

Either way, addressing financial issues head on is a step in the right direction. Nearly 40% of siblings sidestep their issues completely. Not surprisingly, such avoidance isn’t very productive. A total of 17% report that the topic usually goes away, while 22% say it continues to emerge as a point of contention.

“This is one area where it’s critical for siblings to get on the same page,” says Keckler. “At the very least, they should try and resolve their differences to work together in the event they have shared responsibilities down the road. As parents age, siblings could have a lot of complex issues to work through — everything from estate planning and wills to health care (including long-term care), retirement income and more.”

As Keckler adds, a neutral third party such as a financial advisor can be a tremendous help in that regard. “In these situations, having all family members work with a single advisor is often a good idea,” she says. “That approach will allow the advisor to listen to and understand everyone’s unique viewpoints. It can also help the advisor create a comprehensive plan, one that addresses everyone’s needs and concerns.”

Conversation starters checklist

  1. Determine your priorities and goals
    Assess what financial matters you and your siblings will need to manage together, such as caring for aging parents.
  2. Keep communications open, frank and frequent, and don’t let past conflicts interfere
    Having honest financial conversations often can help avoid misunderstandings that can have a ripple effect through your entire family.
  3. Set responsibilities
    Each sibling may be able to help in different ways - whether that means time or money. Assign roles and responsibilities based on each person’s circumstances and abilities.
  4. Talk less, listen more
    Money is a delicate topic to discuss. An open-minded, non-judgmental approach can help encourage your sibling(s) to speak up and boost your chances of having productive conversations.
  5. Keep your parents in mind
    It’s very likely they will need your help, particularly as they age. Setting aside any differences can help you work together toward common goals.
  6. Ask for help if needed
    Whether it’s seeking assistance from other family members or an outside source like a financial advisor, it’s ok to ask someone to help guide the conversation.

An Ameriprise financial advisor can help you make your family’s money talks productive and work with you to plan for the challenges and opportunities ahead.