Thanksgiving offers times to reflect on what we are most grateful for in life. For many of us this includes our relationships with family. While they are not far from our hearts, we are often separated by hectic schedules or distance. Having a set time to get together to celebrate allows us to be present with each other and reconnect.
It’s also a prime opportunity to engage in important family discussions that are logistically difficult to have throughout the year. Estate planning should be a part of these discussions.
Will it be uncomfortable?
Estate planning rarely is an easy conversation, but then again the most important and necessary conversations in life usually are not easy.
Time Waits for No One
While discussing our mortality is never fun, neither is living with the regret about missed opportunities to plan.
The bulk of family conflict that occurs after the death or incapacitation of a parent or family member stems from miscommunication, misunderstanding, and assumptions about their love ones’ wishes. That can all be avoided by starting a candid conversation while the family is together to help get everyone on the same page.
Parents, Relieve Your Adult Children’s’ Stress and Anxiety
While the topic of estate planning can be difficult, it also can provide relief for family members; particularly adult children.
Speaking personally, many adult children are concerned about whether or not their parents have their affairs in order as they age. The questions are real and valid: What happens to Mom or Dad when one of them dies or has a chronic illness? Who will care for Mom or Dad if they can no longer care for themselves? Can they afford the care? Can we? What will be our roles and responsibilities be caring for them? The anxiety that can come along with these unanswered questions is real and sometimes paralyzing.
The easiest solution is obviously to talk about it. Easier said than done due to family dynamics, not being able to address the mortality of a parent, or not wanting to seem insensitive or be misunderstood. Taking the first steps towards having the conversation with parents sometimes begins with siblings joining together to discuss a game plan first.
Assumptions Lead to Poor Outcomes
Likewise, many parents are not as open with their children or family about their wishes or financial information. Some are naturally private people, but many parents are just used to shielding their children from the realities of life as they did when their children were growing up. Some just rely on assumptions we hear often: (1) All their children get along and will just know what to do; (2) They are intelligent enough to figure it out; (3) Our children have their differences, but of course, they will be able to overcome them to rally to aid their parents.
As a result, the important discussions are avoided and their avoidance rationalized. Even if there is some acknowledgement that the discussion needs to be had, there is always time to put it off until later. Sadly, there are too many examples of how this false sense of security can play out poorly. The holidays are an opportunity for parents to be leaders of this important discussion while they have a captive audience.
Receive Insight and Feedback Now to Avoid Conflict Later
Opening up a dialogue during the holidays can bridge communication gaps that exist in every family. This will help avoid family conflict later.
For example, a parent will be able to be clear about their wishes which will quell any bickering later among children about who knows their parents wishes best.
A dialogue will also provide an open forum for adult children and other trusted family members to voice their concerns, worries, and perspective. And for those that choose not to participate in the conversation, their reactions contain valuable information. This will all be helpful when deciding the different roles family members might play in an estate plan.
For example, one child might appear to be an excellent choice to be a trustee, a power of attorney, or a healthcare agent but through your discussions you learn why that might not be the case. Or you may learn that the reason a family member is reluctant to participate in the conversation is because it is too emotionally overwhelming for them. This might signify that they would be a poor fit to hold significant responsibilities in your planning.
Set the Stage for Discussions in the Near Future
If the holidays might not necessarily be the best time for you to have estate planning discussions due to certain family dynamics, that is okay. Let your loved ones know that you have something serious to discuss with them and schedule another time during the year for a family talk. This can be another great way to bring the family together, but without the pressures and expectations of the holidays.
No matter when you decide to have a family meeting, it will be a great way to ensure everyone knows what is going on. Have a list of topics you want to cover so you don’t forget anything. You don’t have to share specific financial numbers during the meeting, just give your family an idea of what you’re thinking and encourage them to ask questions. Moreover, the family meeting does not have to be a grand event, but instead could be a series of smaller group discussions or one-on-one meetings. The key is always clarity through communication whether in an open group or more discretely on an individual level.
While these conversations can be uncomfortable and difficult, you will be thankful for the chance to have them before it is too late.
As President Theodore Roosevelt said, “[n]othing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…” Indeed, anything worth doing rarely is easy. If you need additional assistance, consult a qualified estate planning attorney in your area to help guide you and your family through this process. If you live nearby, we’d be happy to meet with you.
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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He is all about family and is passionate about educating his community about trust and estate planning, veterans issues, and how to protect what matters most.