As the holiday season nears, we continue to live with our “new normal.” This year’s holiday celebrations will involve virtual conversations and social distancing.  Even still, they are a good time to reflect on your planning goals and/or begin conversations with loved ones about their planning needs.

We recognize that estate planning isn’t an easy or natural topic.  Talking about finances, relationships, health and death within a family can bring up conflicting emotions and awkwardness.  Even the timing of when to discuss estate planning can be a source of stress. Here are some suggestions on how to navigate these discussions with grace, supportiveness and tact:

   1.    Parents speaking with adult children.

If you’re a parent initiating this conversation with adult children, you may want to pick a quiet moment to have a virtual or socially distant 1:1 chat.  Explain that you feel ready to create a plan that memorializes your wishes and avoids confusion and stress for your family down the road. This will be an ongoing conversation, so start slowly and be patient with yourself and others.

It may be easier to have an initial conversation as you reflect on a holiday meal rather than in the lead-up to festivities.  People may be more focused and calmer at that time. Distractions will likely be minimized. This will help your loved ones to better understand the benefits of planning ahead and the peace-of-mind it brings with it.

    2.   Adult children speaking with aging parents. 

If you’re the adult child of aging parents, you should be honest about why you’re initiating this discussion. Explain that this isn’t about being nosy with other people’s lives. Instead, it’s about ensuring that your parents’ wishes are properly memorialized.  Avoid getting into the details of decisions your parents must make and focus instead on helping them understand the importance of planning while they are healthy.

One possible approach is to discuss how current circumstances have led you to plan more robustly.  You may point out that your family is starting to gather telephone numbers and passwords in the event of an emergency, that you’ve begin thinking about who will make healthcare decisions for you if you cannot, etc. Another approach is to seek their guidance on your estate planning objectives. From there, you can guide the conversation towards ensuring that your parents also have such plans in place.

    3.  Talk about specific estate planning documents. 

Sometimes you can diffuse the awkwardness of such conversations by focusing on a checklist of documents.  This checklist should include:

  • A durable power of attorney for your financial decisions in the event of incapacity;
  • A durable power of attorney for your medical decisions in the event of incapacity; and
  • A will or trust.

Focus on the purpose of these documents rather than what they contain.  That will help your family better appreciate your intentions and prevent emotions from running high. If documents are not yet drawn up, address what steps you can take to do so. Here at Rao Legal, LLC, we provide our clients with sample documents whenever possible so that they can become more familiar and comfortable with planning.

Perhaps you or your parents need time to think about who will serve in key roles.  Who will be the executor of a will? Who will make decisions if you/they cannot? Recognize that these are important decisions and give each other the space to make them.

4.    Lead with Empathy. 

Remind your family that estate planning is about ensuring that everyone is on the same page in honoring another’s wishes. Handling this now prevents conflicts and minimizes stress. Nonetheless, you should proceed gently.  Listen and watch carefully to see how others are responding.  Put yourself in their shoes and recognize how difficult this may be. The goal is to establish open and mutually supportive communication.

If you need help, please feel free to call or email.  We’re here for you. We take pride in providing counseling-oriented advice and are experienced in helping families handle such conversations. In the meantime, we wish you a wonderful and safe holiday season.

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