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How do you talk to your family about estate planning?

The reality is that people generally do not want to think about, let alone talk about, their own demise. Even individuals who recognize the need for discussion of the inevitable are unsure when, where or how to start the conversation.

Yes, it may be uncomfortable and it may be awkward, but death is a reality and discussing estate planning matters prior to death is much preferable to beneficiaries than second guessing what the deceased "really meant" after they have died.

Each family is different and there are too many possible scenarios for there to be a "one size fits all" method. But here are some ideas and generic concepts that might help to open the door to discussion.

When is a good time?
Pick a time talk to family while they are more likely to hear and understand the what’s and why’s of the Will; that is when they are not in the highly emotional state of grieving. Communication in advance of the death will be easier on them than trying to figure out the estate planning motives of the deceased after the fact.

Some families may be more comfortable discussing estate planning issues in private. However, for some families it may help to have a neutral third party there to act as a buffer, i.e. a mediator or estate planner.

How do you talk about Estate Planning?
Not necessarily looking for input… there is no requirement that the family be consulted regarding what they want. After all, it is the testator’s property and he/she can ultimately decide to distribute it however he/she wishes, within certain confines of the law.

Explaining the "whys" and the thought process behind the decisions… sometimes it may help just to know the why of a particular distribution scheme. Perhaps the testator has decided to leave the majority of the estate to Sarah because Johnny has already achieved a comfortable lifestyle. Without an explanation, Johnny might be left wondering if he has done something wrong.

Give the family an opportunity to ask questions… who knows, maybe the family will think of an option that the testator had not considered. This also gives the family a chance to ensure they understand what the testator has planned.

Something to think about...
Not Hollywood flashy but heartwarming and true. A father and son were semi-estranged. Someone suggested to the father that he speak with his son to see if there was anything he’d like of his father’s personal effects after the father died. The father grudgingly agreed to speak to his son, but indicated that he was sure his son wouldn’t want anything. In fact, the son did have a request… he wanted a picture of himself and his father and the car that they had worked on together while the son was young. The request helped reestablish a relationship between the father and son.

In whatever manner the subject of estate planning is broached with family, the most important factor is that it is discussed

For your no cost Estate Plan Needs Assessment contact one of our Wealth Management Advisors or call 1-800-563-3300.


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