Go Ahead, Talk Turkey over the Holidays

With Thanksgiving and the winter holidays rapidly approaching, there is a slew of opportunities to gather the family under one roof and get talking. Estate planning and Wills should be part of that discussion. Although it may be tempting to avoid what many consider to be a morbid topic, it’s important to talk to your loved ones so they will know what to do when the time comes.  Communicating openly and honestly with your heirs while you’re still around can help everyone avoid conflict after you’ve passed. Here are eight tips for broaching the sensitive subject with your loved ones.

Be as transparent as possible.

Give your family a heads-up that you would like to discuss your estate plan when you gather.  Have an agenda that outlines the discussion points and circulate it to family members a few weeks in advance to avoid surprises and to allow everyone to mentally prepare for the discussion.

Strategize for any likely sticking points.

You know your family’s internal dynamics.  Maybe your son will be taken aback that his sister was selected as your executor.  Or maybe your daughter will be upset by the details of your advance healthcare directive.  If you predict that something might present a significant issue for a family member, consider reaching out to them to touch on it beforehand so that it doesn’t derail the family meeting.

Avoid holding the meeting at a time when everyone has had a few drinks.

As tempting as it may be to hold the meeting in the evening after the kids have been put down and everyone has a glass of wine in hand, resist the inclination to include alcohol at this meeting.  As we all know, alcohol can amplify peoples’ emotions and exacerbate existing issues.  Pick a time when everyone is fresh, relaxed and sober.

Arrange for childcare.

Keep this meeting an adults-only event so that everyone can participate without the distractions of babies and children.  Perhaps hold the meeting after bedtime or ask the older children to supervise a movie night in a different part of the house.

Don’t immediately dive into the heavy stuff.

Start the meeting with a discussion of a lighter part of the plan.  Perhaps start the meeting by sharing the name of a charitable cause that you have included in your plan.

Prepare your paperwork.

Once you’ve hammered out the details of your estate plan, have the appropriate documents drafted and notarized to cement your wishes before you sit down with your loved ones.  Bring copies to ensure clarity and reduce the chances of misunderstanding your plan.

Set an inclusive tone.

While you should remain firm in your estate planning decisions during this meeting, try to convey that you are welcoming the family to share your vision and goals through this discussion. Try to communicate that every decision was made with their best interests at heart.  If you can get everyone on the same page and openly communicating about the matter from the get-go, you will reduce the risk of disputes later.

Consider inviting a professional to attend the meeting if you feel it would be appropriate.

Depending on your family dynamics, it may be helpful to have an outside expert, such as your financial advisor, estate planning attorney or accountant, help facilitate this conversation, explaining the reasoning and implications of decisions.  Keep in mind that this could possibly make the meeting more of a formal affair than if only family members attend.

All too often, surviving loved ones are left searching for necessary documents, or worse, suffering through expensive legal processes because no estate planning documents were ever created.  Take advantage of the high spirits and cheer of the holiday season to launch this crucial conversation on a positive note.