Discussing Estate Planning During the Holidays

The year-end holidays are upon us, and we are all looking forward to gathering with our families over the next couple of months. This is an ideal time to discuss estate planning with your parents, grown children, and siblings. As this can be a difficult subject to broach, we have some suggestions on how to organize the conversation.

First, Schedule a Time

Long-term health plans and finances are not appropriate to bring up while passing the turkey, so it’s best to schedule a time when you can all be together separate from holiday festivities. Be honest with everyone about the purpose for the meeting, so that your family has time to get their thoughts organized.

Explain Why We Need to Talk About This

There can be a lot of embarrassment in discussing finances, health, and death within a family. Open and supportive communication can help get past this hurdle. Make it clear that this isn’t about greed or being nosy with other people’s lives. Instead, it’s about making sure that everyone is on the same page with their long-term goals and ensuring that wishes will be respected and honored. The conversation should not be aggressive or contentious. Be sensitive to the feelings of vulnerability that the discussion might cause. Remember that dollar amounts aren’t necessary to the conversation and respect your family’s privacy.

Talk About Estate Planning Documents

Ask your family members if they have set up a will or trust, and a durable financial power of attorney, and share your own information. If they have not yet had these documents drawn up, discuss what concerns they have. Are they worried about cost? Are they struggling finding a lawyer they trust? Do they have anxiety about making difficult decisions? Sometimes having this conversation with supportive family can help resolve these hurdles. Make a plan as a family with how to proceed, and set realistic deadlines for completion.

Talk About Long-Term Health Plans

In addition to asking about health care related documents (a health care power of attorney, a living will, etc.) make sure you know yourself what your loved ones want regarding their own health plans, and share your own wishes and goals. Have you thought about long-term care, and how that would work financially? Do you know how the family should proceed if someone isn’t capable of making their own decisions? Have you talked about what will happen if a person loses mental capacity due to dementia or illness? This can be a difficult thing to discuss, but will prevent grief and contention later on if it is addressed early.

Remind Your Family that You Love Them

Discussing estate planning is a way to build family ties and show respect for people’s choices regarding their assets and health. Understanding everyone’s needs and goals clarifies how to proceed and prevents potential conflict. It may be a difficult conversation, but it will strengthen your family long-term.

Colin Austin