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Beyond the document: Talking to your family about your estate plan

Recently, I’ve had a few conversations with clients who have been meaning to keep their estate plan a secret from their loved ones.

It’s just so hard to bring up!”

“All documents are in place–is talking about it still necessary?”

“Can’t I do it later when I’m much older??”

Yep, it IS hard. I mean, who really wants to talk about getting ready for when we’re not around or incapacitated, right? I totally understand the difficulty and uneasiness of having to do this conversation, let alone start it. But trust me–it’s a conversation you shouldn’t dodge. If you have an estate plan, understand that communicating it is part of the process.

With this, here are a few tips to make things a little more manageable for you (and your family!)

Remember – it’s better to do it now than later.

First, it’s important to remind yourself that you’re initiating the discussion to avoid complications later on. Note that having all the documents ready, alone, is not enough to steer clear of any challenges that your loved ones may face when death or incapacity comes. Your estate plan is a huge help, sure, but talking about it with your family and loved ones is an additional need-to, in ensuring everyone gets a good understanding of your plan.

Depending on the circumstances, one way to kickstart the conversation is by sharing your own positive experience in building your estate plan.

Follow it up with the whys–why you finally got one, and then why they should start theirs too, if they haven’t yet. Again, how you bring it up will all depend on the situation and circumstances, but trust that once you’ve started, it’ll all get easier from there!

Note that the discussion doesn’t have to be too serious! If it can be avoided (again, depends on the context!), try to keep it light and positive. After all, an estate plan is not and never something to be scared and uneasy about!

Don’t leave out anyone.

In starting the conversation, remember that the goal is for all parties to have a good understanding of what their role is in your plan (as will be discussed further in my next point!). Obviously, this can’t be achieved if necessary people are excluded in the process!

Depending on the age of your beneficiaries, you may want to include them too. But perhaps more importantly, talk with the individuals you've named to take on important roles: powers of attorney, personal representative (executor), trustee, guardians, etc. These folks are the ones who will be taking on certain responsibilities at the time of death or incapacity.

I'll be the first to acknowledge that sometimes family members may not agree with your choices. But this is YOUR plan, and you didn't make these decisions lightly. Although this isn’t always the case (yes, many families can actually settle these matters amicably!), a good and meaningful discussion with all the necessary persons early on will be a HUGE help in avoiding future disagreements.

Relax–no need to get into the specifics!

When I say good understanding, I don’t mean dissecting each and every detail of your estate plan! As mentioned earlier, all you really want is for your family to be aware of–and agree to–what is expected of them at the time of your death or incapacity. As long as you and your loved ones have a shared understanding of this after the talk, that should be sufficient in terms of communicating your estate plan.

However, if you’re the type who would rather go through the detail of details, you’re free not to skip them, of course! Some estate planning attorneys would even give practical tips and guidance when discussing the basic legal issues involved, so it’s possible to include this in the conversation, too. At the end of the day, what matters is you’ve achieved the goal of sharing, regardless of how much detail you included (and decided to leave out) in the conversation.

If you’ve updated your plan, don’t forget to update your loved ones, too!

As I’ve said before, it is highly suggested that you meet with your estate planning attorney at least every three years to update your plan. If you’ve been doing so (or not–as long as you’re regularly reviewing it!), that is GREAT. However, in the process, don’t forget to update your loved ones accordingly, too! Especially if the updates involve a change in any of the parties’ responsibilities, share, or participation, it is important that they’re made aware of your decision.

Hope this helps! If you’re still feeling uneasy about starting the conversation, I’m here to support. Drop me a line by clicking this link. You may also choose to sign up for a FREE virtual consultation here.

Catch you on the next blog!


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