The holidays are a time for family togetherness, good food, and fond memories. However, it can also present opportunities for important yet sensitive conversations about the future. Discussing estate planning with aging parents or other relatives can ensure your loved ones’ wishes are carried out, but how do you broach such an emotionally loaded topic during the festivities? Or, how do you tell your kids and grandkids that you’re leaving a significant amount of money to charity?
On both sides of the discussion, family members can experience tension, doubts, or misgivings. With some finesse and TLC, you can initiate productive conversations about this challenging subject.
Look for openings to ease into the topic naturally. If a relative mentions future plans or shares a life update, you may find a chance to ask thoughtful questions about their intentions for healthcare decisions or assets. Listen more than you speak at the start. Allow them to share their hopes and concerns before offering your own input.
Wait for the right time. Because conversations around estate planning topics can feel difficult for many people, avoid bringing it up during activities such as family games or opening gifts. Share your concerns during a private moment. And while this might seem obvious to most, serious conversations should be avoided if anyone is under the influence of a few too many spiked egg nogs!
Speak carefully. When addressing specifics, use empathetic language to validate any worries before problem-solving. For example, “I understand feeling uncomfortable talking about this, but it’s important we know your wishes” can help family members open their minds. Reassure them that estate planning exists to honor their preferences, not make judgments.
Avoid pointed questions. When discussing finances, remember that some individuals consider this a private and sensitive subject. There’s no need to ask for specific details, such as how much money someone keeps in a liquid account or has stashed in a retirement account. Focus the conversations on their needs, such as their final wishes and how they want to protect their assets.
Focus on the facts. Come armed with facts, resources, and options to establish trust in the solutions you suggest, whether an appointment with an estate attorney or a tour of senior living facilities. The key is encouraging the family member to see you as an advocate rather than an adversary when challenging topics arise.
Focus on “I” statements rather than “you” statements. There’s no need to issue blame upon anyone whose financial choices or lifestyle don’t match your values. Rather than, “I’m afraid you would lose all the money in your next divorce,” simply state, “I want my life’s earnings to benefit this cause that I’m passionate about.”
Suggest meeting with a professional. It can often be simpler to allow a neutral third party to guide the discussion. Plus, when this third party is an estate planning attorney or financial advisor, they bring expertise and knowledge of the law to the conversation.
Take a break if necessary. If tensions escalate, suggest tabling the conversation for a better occasion. The holidays need not be overshadowed by debates that can keep. Let your relative know the lines of communication remain open.
While estate planning talks will always involve emotional landmines, the payoff of peace of mind for all makes the conversation worth the effort. Protecting your loved ones’ welfare and handling tough situations gracefully is one of the greatest gifts you can share. If we can assist you with initiating this discussion or in guiding the creation of an estate plan, call our estate planning attorneys at Shoup Legal.