Two of the most uncomfortable topics for almost any family to discuss are money and death. As a result, conversations about estate planning often don’t happen until it’s too late. As a probate lawyer, I realize that there is never an easy time to bring up such sensitive topics, but the sooner you “have the talk” about estate planning, the better off your family will be.
No matter what is being discussed, we always recommend being very honest and clear about your wishes. Make sure that your loved ones know how you want your assets managed and distributed, especially if you’re usually the one that handles the family finances. It can also help to directly ask your family if they feel capable of carrying out such wishes. If they’re uncertain about their abilities, choose someone else to step in and help. In some cases, it may be best to leave certain responsibilities to a professional, such as an attorney or financial advisor. This could help ease some of the burden on your loved ones during a difficult time.
If you have children, these discussions will be even more important. If your children are young, you and your spouse or partner will need to agree on who will be appointed as guardian. Once you’ve chosen someone to act as the guardian of your child or children, sit down and have an honest discussion with your guardian about how you want your children raised.
If your kids are grown, you should have a general conversation about your intentions and provide some details about your estate so that there are no hard feelings or family feuds if something happens. You may also want to encourage them to think about setting up their own estate planning documents. If your own parents are still living, talk to them and make sure their documents are being updated on a regular basis, as well.
Aside from the legal issues involved, there’s also the sentimental side to consider. It’s a wise idea to use these discussions to talk about any family traditions you want to share with future generations. You should also discuss how family heirlooms should be handed down, talk about your family’s oral history, and make plans to pass on those funny or interesting stories (or maybe grandma’s top-secret recipes).
Obviously, the best time to have these conversations is when things are relatively calm and everyone is able to gather in a comfortable environment. For some families, holidays are an ideal time because everyone is in one place. For others, the day may be filled with too much stress to attempt to have a meaningful conversation. We suggest doing what’s best for your family…but don’t put the task off for too long. Waiting until you’re in the middle of a crisis only makes things worse.
Of course, if you are still struggling to approach these sensitive topics with your family members, we are here to help. Call our law firm and schedule a time to meet with a probate lawyer to learn the steps you need to take to protect your family and how to approach these important conversations when the time comes. We strive to make the process as clear and easy as possible for the entire family.