Can We Talk? (How to Talk to Your Family About Your Estate Plan)

No matter how good you are are planning, other people are almost always affected by your decisions and actions as well as your success and failures.

The people who are affected are often the ones we care about the most – our family.

When it comes estate planning, you should discuss the details of your plan with your family.  This is a difficult conversation because it’s not easy to talk about money, but when you’re talking about money, you are really talking about is values.

You are talking about when something is more valuable than something else and this is a much easier conversation.

Ultimately, the most important value is relationships, which matter much more than money.

The best way to keep the relationships strong after your passing and avoid fighting is to discuss your estate plan with your family.

Here are six tips for talking with your family about your estate plan:

Tip 1 – Choose the Right Person for the Right Roles

A critical aspect to the success of your estate plan is to assign the right people to the right roles and responsibilities.

A common mistake is to make decisions based on what you think your family will want as opposed to what you want.

It’s best to take emotion out the equation when making decisions concerning your estate plan. Acting as fiduciary for someone can be a difficult job, and the person should be up for the responsibility.

You need to take into consideration whom you truly believe to be the best person for the job and not just pick the eldest son because that what everyone expects.

If an individual is too scared or hesitant about being a fiduciary, then they will probably do a poor job.

Tip 2 – Execute Your Estate Plan

You should have your estate plan signed and notarized before you discuss it with your family.  This will help ensure that there is no room for misinterpretation about wishes and intentions and everyone is on the same page.

Tip 3- Set the Tone

It’s probably best to keep the initial conversation with the only family.

Some parents opt for a more formal talk and ask their estate planning attorney to help as a facilitator. They might also want to someone who can explain, in detail, the reasons behind a particular decision.

A casual approach works best because the discussion should be friendly and not a prelude to fighting among family members.  You can always include your estate planning attorney in later conversations for areas that need a more detailed explanation.

Tip 4 – Prepare Ahead of Time

You should practice ahead of time what you want to say to your family because this subject should be handled with care and sensitivity.

You should provide answers on why you chose a particular duty for a particular person and your goals for your estate plan.

Tip 5 – Stay Positive

The goal of the meeting is to let your family know you care about securing their future and give them a chance to let you know they care about following through with your wishes.

The meeting should not be confrontational. You should address legitimate concerns in an upfront manner, but be careful not create animosity among family members.

Tip 6 – It’s Not One and Done

An estate plan may seem final, but that is often not the case. Your estate plan needs to change as certain events happen in your life, such as marriage, divorce, or selling a business.

An important step is setting expectations with your family that you plan to talk about your estate plan with them periodically to help prevent future tensions.

You won’t feel pressured to layout every single detail in the initial meeting. You can have more conversations to go over your plan in more detail, such as when you make changes to your plan.

If changes are made to the plan and later not communicated, then this can lead to fighting among family members.  You can avoid the “Mom and Dad would have wanted this argument” because you had the conversation.

Tackling these critical decisions early on as well as keeping your family in the loop, can only help bring the family closer together.