Having tough conversations is something most of us would prefer to avoid. However, uncomfortable conversations are usually necessary, and when it comes to estate planning, it is best done sooner rather than later. The following are 5 tips for having a conversation about estate planning.
Tip #1: Preempt the conversation.
No one enjoys being blindsided, especially with a discussion about one’s own mortality. It is a good idea to set the expectation for the conversation. Casually suggest that estate planning is something that you would like to discuss next time you visit. This will allow you and your loved ones to organize your thoughts, feelings, and priorities for the conversation. Giving some advanced notice of a difficult conversation can help all parties involved to approach the conversation with a sense of preparedness.
Tip #2: Pick a good time & place.
Take the opportunity to choose a beneficial time and setting. It is better to have the conversation on your carefully selected terms, rather than in a surprised state of crisis.
When the subject of the conversation is uncomfortable, you can determine that the setting of the conversation is not. Pick a place that is familiar and positive for your family. It is also important to select an environment that is conducive for clear and uninterrupted discussion. While a bowling alley might be a fun and positive place to be, the constant interruption and the loud bustle of activity would make it difficult to achieve any meaningful discussion.
Additionally, It may be beneficial to select a time when most of your family is able to be present for the conversation. When everyone feels that they have been allowed to express their thoughts and opinions, it can save heartache and contention later.
Tip #3: Open, empathetic, and inclusive.
When topics like money, belongings, relationships, and decision-making come up, motivations can easily be misinterpreted. Concisely state your intentions for wanting to have the conversation. Be empathetic. Nothing is being written in stone; it is merely a conversation. Allow everyone involved to offer their thoughts. Make an attempt to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes, and adopt their perspective. Talking about planning for end-of-life is inherently a little uncomfortable for most people. Recognize that the subject is tough, and practice listening.
Tip #4: Keep calm, reassure, and take a break if necessary.
Avoid lending yourself to dramatics and being overly emotional. Since emotions often do threaten to overwhelm the conversation, reassure yourself and your family that the conversation doesn’t have to be emotional. Keeping composure is a tool for productively achieving a goal. A calm demeanor doesn’t mean that you don’t care, and getting worked up is not evidence of sincerity.
If you or a loved one begins to get lost in the difficulty of the discussion, then take a break. Come back to the conversation at a later time when everyone is able to re-gather themselves. It is perfectly acceptable to break up the conversation into a few segments over time. The important thing is that you have the conversation.
Tip #5: Set goals, and take action.
You don’t want to have a rough conversation for nothing. Determine what needs to be done. Provide a few benefits of putting a plan in place, and the consequences of not planning. Talk about action steps to take. Maybe make a pros and cons list. Perhaps you can organize a set of your concerns, and arrange them according to importance.
Reach out to your resources with questions surrounding estate planning. Estate planning is very important but rarely understood. You don’t know what you don’t know, and that’s okay, but don’t let the unknowns go unaddressed because they are scary. Create due dates for accomplishing your actions steps. You may not make your deadline, but having one will encourage you to act.