Whether it’s fear of death, stress about the potential costs or feeling overwhelmed by the work involved, estate planning can cause anxiety for many. Some are so uncomfortable about the topic they refuse to talk about it with anyone, including family, trusted advisors or an estate planning attorney.
If your parent, grandparent or any other person you love refuses to talk about estate planning, or if your adult children or grandchildren won’t discuss it with you, here are seven tips to help get this difficult — yet important — conversation started.
- Gather Information: Before you approach your family to have the conversation, educate yourself on what estate planning documents might be needed. Common estate plan items include Wills, trusts, powers of attorney and advanced medical directives. Timothy Rice Estate and Elder Law offers free resources to help you understand estate planning basics, such as the “Getting Your Affairs in Order” infographic, downloadable checklists and a primer on basic estate planning terms.
- Line up the Professionals: Perhaps your parents or grandparents have a trusted family attorney or financial advisor. Ask those professionals if they would be willing to discuss the importance of estate planning with your family members and for referrals to estate planning attorneys. Also, ask friends or colleagues for referrals to estate planning attorneys so you can come to the conversation prepared.
- Involve Siblings: If you have brothers or sisters, or even cousins in the case of grandparents, reach out to them to ensure everyone is on the same page. You may learn that one of them has already had, or tried to have, this conversation. Discuss the different estate planning roles, such as health care proxy or executor, and see if you can agree on who might be willing and able to assume these responsibilities. It’s still up to the person creating the estate plan to select their representatives but bringing volunteers can help the decision-making process.
- Pick Your Moment: When the time has come for the conversation, set it up for success by choosing to have it in a calm, comfortable and non-stressful environment. Discussing estate planning in a loud restaurant or during a moment of crisis will likely not put your family member in the right emotional state to talk openly and earnestly.
- Be Sincere: Ensure that your family member knows you are initiating this difficult conversation out of concern for their well-being. There can be many choices when it comes to health care, end of life care and what happens to property after death. Show that you want to ensure their wishes are carried out. Before bringing up items like Wills and trusts, focus the conversation on your desire to help and by asking questions about what they think their later years will look like.
- Stress the Importance of Estate Planning: Explain how estate planning now will save loved ones from stress later. Having to guess at what a family member wants can lead to arguments among siblings and can create costly court actions and other fees for the family. If you have an example of someone you know who went through a difficult estate settlement process or probate, share that story. Our Blog has some real examples of how failure to estate plan impacts family members. Read one client’s story here and here is what happened after Zappos.com CEO Tony Hshieh died without an estate plan.
- Keep Talking: Once the conversation has started, keep it going. Follow up to ensure the estate planning process continues and offer to be a resource however you can. Importantly, remember to check in with your family member should there be any circumstance that would warrant a change to the estate plan, such as the death of an executor, a new grandchild being born or a marriage or a divorce.