We often catch up with our relatives and the changes happening in their lives at family gatherings. For some families, they're among the few times everyone will get together under one roof. These celebrations can be the right time to start the conversation about your loved ones' future.
An effective estate planning discussion involves timing, tact, and strategy. The conversation can continue and evolve later.
Timing the Conversation Before the Celebration Begins
To discuss delicate matters like estate planning, you need clear thinking and full attention. It's vital to be seen, heard, and understood. It can be better to begin the conversation before the saying of grace or opening of gifts. Consuming alcohol or a heavy meal may also affect people's moods.
It's not necessary to finish the discussion all in one sitting. You may suggest everyone gather for a short talk. If you're hosting, in your invitation, you can mention the discussion beforehand to help everyone prepare. Encourage those who can't be there in person to join by video or a phone call. To give everyone more time to think and enjoy the celebration, you may table the talk in favor of a full conversation later.
Strategies for Broaching the Topic of Estate Planning Gracefully
Planning what to discuss and how to start and frame the conversation makes it more meaningful and productive. Some ways to approach the conversation include:
- Enlisting the help of other family members who are closer to your parents – or other relatives of concern – to broach the topic.
- Being upfront. Admit the difficulty of discussing estate planning with family because of the sensitive nature of the topic. Recognizing everyone's different views on death and dying can help them feel more comfortable notifying you if they have an estate plan.
- Framing an estate plan as a gift to the family, regardless of who pays for it. You're not prying for information or acting in your self-interest: "We're fine. We're concerned and want to help, if necessary."
- Letting everyone involved ask questions, seek advice, or give their opinions.
- Discussing your own estate planning journey can boost your credibility. You may also open the pathway to the topic through a discussion about family history, heirlooms, or traditions. Example: “Aunt Mary's delightful toasts are a tradition I look forward to every year. She puts a lot of thought into planning her kind wishes to everyone for the New Year. In the spirit of considering what the future will bring, this year, I decided to create an estate plan....”
For more talking points, see our article, Talking To Aging Parents About Their Health, Wealth, and Future Before It's Too Late. Also, The Conversation Project offers a guide for discussing health-care and end-of-life plans.
Throughout, despite any disagreements, remember that the holidays are a time of sharing and expressing love, compassion, and gratitude. These qualities are among the reasons why people discuss and create estate plans.
Remember to Keep the Discussion Alive
Estate planning isn't usually a “one and done” project. As lives change, especially with divorce, births, retirement, or new marriages, review an estate plan for updates every three years.
Whatever you do to open the conversation, it can prompt those you love to act. Ultimately, it's up to them what they do, but the sooner they start, the better. You can feel reassured knowing that in starting the conversation, you tried to remove the guesswork and set the stage to protect your family's legacy.
For help continuing the conversation about estate planning, contact us online or call (207) 377-3966.