Sitting down with an estate planner to develop an estate plan is a smart first step. But signing your documents is not the end of the process. In order to ensure your wishes and desires are protected, you need to have some frank conversations with your fiduciaries.
Estate planning is something that every parent should invest in. It’s not a responsibility that should be delayed or forgotten about. But the decisions don’t stop with what to include in your estate plan. You also have to think about when and how to discuss it with your children.
Why Are Estate Planning Discussions So Sensitive?
Families don’t have estate planning-related discussions as much as they should. Sometimes this is a result of ignorance – not knowing that conversations need to be had – but it’s often a byproduct of procrastination.
Estate planning is a sensitive topic that combines two subject matters most people aren’t comfortable speaking out loud about: money and death. So families put off these conversations for years (even decades) and promise to discuss details at a later date and time.
According to a survey by Wells Fargo, 44 percent of Americans see personal finance as the single most challenging topic to discuss with others. (And it’s not just conversations with strangers that we avoid. Money is a leading cause of stress in family relationships and marriages.)
Coming in second on the Wells Fargo survey is the subject of death, with 38 percent of people saying it’s the most challenging topic to discuss with others.
That means 82 percent of people find at least one aspect of estate planning challenging to talk about. (And many find both unpalatable.)
In most families, money and emotions are tied together. Otherwise well-intentioned people will say and do things they shouldn’t when money is involved. This can create friction between parents, children, siblings, grandchildren, and other relatives. So rather than ruin Christmas dinner, many parents decide to avoid the topic and talk about something more lighthearted.
The same goes for death. Nobody likes pondering their own death, nor do children and grandchildren who want to enjoy as many years as possible together – happy and healthy!
But estate planning conversations need to be had. Among other things, they serve the purpose of:
- Clarifying the plan for your estate so there are no blind spots, unanswered questions, or confusion.
- Ensuring everyone is on the same page regarding what will happen.
- Giving adult children the opportunity to ask questions, express concerns, or bring up possible issues.
- Providing peace of mind that your family knows your wishes and that your estate will be well cared for.
Having estate planning conversations isn’t easy, but it does get easier with time. The more you do it, the less uncomfortable it becomes. And if you know when and how to have tactful discussions, the friction becomes negligible.
When to Have Discussions With Your Adult Children
The first choice you have to make is in regards to when you begin having estate planning discussions with your children. This is very much a personal decision that will be dictated by your family’s dynamic – including factors like age, relationships, stages in life, careers, personalities, size of the estate, terms of the will, etc.
While it’s impossible to speak to every family in every situation, here’s some food for thought:
- Avoid having long estate planning conversations with children under the age of 18. This can be hard on them and may bring about more confusion than clarity.
- Assuming you’re fairly young and healthy, you might wait until your children are established in their careers before discussing the terms of your estate. (Particularly if you’re leaving behind sizeable assets.) This ensures they continue to work hard and create their own success.
- It’s best to have conversations in situations where there aren’t heightened emotions. For example, holidays aren’t necessarily the best time. The same goes for early in the morning or very late at night. You want these discussions to be as clear and objective as possible.
Pull out the nuggets that you feel like apply to your family dynamic and discard the rest. The important takeaway is that you don’t want to wait too long to have these conversations. The sooner your adult children are on the same page, the better.
Techniques and Tactics for Healthy Estate Planning Conversations
Now it’s time to touch on the how. Here are some techniques for facilitating transparent estate planning discussions that benefit everyone:
- Decide what they need to know. There’s no rulebook that says you have to spell out every detail of your estate plan to your children. (But you certainly can if you want.) Decide what you want your children to know and consider dripping more and more details as time passes.
- Explain your heart behind your plan. Your family is much less likely to get emotional, resentful, or frustrated if they see why you’re planning your estate in the way that you are. Help them see that it’s about more than money and physical assets – you’re trying to do what’s best for everyone.
- Speak matter-of-factly. Be very firm and matter-of-fact in your delivery. Don’t pose questions or ask for input, unless you really want it. Make it clear that you’re the one making these choices and that you’re simply conveying to them what’s already been decided.
- Make it a multi-part conversation. It’s rare that an entire estate plan can be discussed in one conversation. It’s healthiest if you make it a multi-part discussion with follow-up talks spread out over months or years. This reiterates the importance of your estate and helps your children get the full picture.
You don’t necessarily need to prepare statements, but the more thought and intentionality there is behind your conversations with your adult children, the more effective they’ll be.
Meet Attorney Michael Blacksburg
Estate planning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s a personal and involved process that’s equal parts technical (paperwork, legal forms, etc.) and interpersonal (requiring certain soft skills and conversations).
While you certainly have the right to do your own estate planning, it’s not something that’s recommended. You need an experienced professional who can help you check off all of the technical boxes, while simultaneously providing guidance and coaching on the softer side of things – like conversations with adult children.
Attorney Michael Blacksburg is more than an estate planning attorney. He’s built his career and practice on the premise of offering thoughtful estate planning services that are suited to each client’s unique needs and goals.
For more information on available services, or to schedule an initial consultation, please contact us today!