Talking to loved ones about estate planning is a difficult conversation because people do not like to talk about death.
But the truth is that none of us will make it out of this life alive, so estate planning is an important topic to discuss with the people you care about most.
Do your homework before you jump into the estate planning conversation with a family member.
First, you should understand why estate planning is important. Estate planning provides peace of mind and can prevent future problems and expense. Without planning in place, your loved one is giving up control.
No planning could mean a guardianship proceeding in the event of incapacity and a probate proceeding upon death. Your loved one’s wishes will not be carried out unless those wishes are reflected in estate planning documents such as a Will or a Trust (link to Will or Trust blog).
Second, you should lead by example. Have you done your own estate planning? People are always more eager to listen if you are following your own advice. If you have completed your estate planning, it can provide you with a great conversation-starter, such as "I recently completed my estate planning and would love to share with you about my estate plan” or “I feel so much better now that I have my affairs in order.”
Third, check your intentions and attitude before you discuss estate planning with a family member. Remember that you should enter the conversation coming from a place of love and not from a desire to control. Your loved one needs to make the decisions concerning the distribution of their assets and who they want to be in charge of carrying out their wishes.
If there is a question about capacity or undue influence, this should be evaluated first. An experienced estate planning attorney can evaluate the individual and make a determination as to whether or not the individual can sign estate planning documents.
Once you are ready to have the conversation with your family member, the following tips will help you get started:
1. Pick a time when no one is in a rush and when there will not be distractions. The dinner table at Thanksgiving is probably not a good choice.
2. Choose a comfortable setting. Going on a walk or a drive may be less confrontational and more comfortable for some than a face-to-face conversation.
- 3. Acknowledge that it is a difficult or uncomfortable topic. Making this acknowledgment will help alleviate tension.
- 4. Be a good listener. People want to be heard. A good listening technique is to repeat back what the other person said, i.e. “What I hear you saying is…”
- 5. Ask questions instead of giving advice. Some examples might be: “What do you want me to tell my children about your life?”; “What are your thoughts about receiving life support?”; or “I have decided that I want to be cremated. What do you think about cremation vs. burial?”
- 6. Estate planning is important, but you do not want your loved one to feel pressured when making decisions. You may want to say, “It is okay to not do anything about this now, but will you please tell me when you are ready to talk about this again?”
- 7. Pass the blame. “I recently read a blog post about estate planning and the author challenged us to talk to our families about estate planning because it is so important.”
Remember that estate planning is an ongoing conversation. If your loved one is not comfortable talking to family, they may still be comfortable speaking to an experienced estate planning attorney confidentially. Estate planning is a gift your loved one can give. Estate planning alleviates stress, creates peace of mind and avoids future problems and heartache.
Contact an experienced estate planning attorney at Ball Morse Lowe to assist your loved one in designing and implementing their estate plan.