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Estate planning is all about facing your own or in some cases, a loved one’s mortality. In some cultures, that conversation can be taboo or just plain uncomfortable. Having the courage to raise the topic can help prepare you and your parents for the future, avoid unpleasant surprises. A well-implemented plan can help promote long-term family harmony, something most parents would want for their children. So how do you start that conversation? Every personality is different, but here are a few tips that can get you started:
Do share your parents’ goals for the future. If you don’t know what they are, that might be a good place to start. Ask them to visualize with you what they see the future being like with your family after they are both gone. Are you all still sharing the family vacation cabin? Has the one struggling sibling been assisted in some way? Perhaps your parents have perspectives that they aren’t comfortable sharing with the family just yet.
Do seize the little moment’s that present themselves to bring the topic up. A media star’s untimely death, for example, can be a great conversation opener. Many of our clients have found that completing their own estate plan is a good opener for discussing the matter their parents.
Do follow up. Once a conversation is started, set next steps. Is scheduling a time appropriate?
Do bring everyone on board. When you leave crucial people (like other siblings) out of the process you create future problems. By keeping the family on the same page you avoid little things like legal challenges to estate planning documents down the road.
Don’t be selfish. If you are more concerned about your inheritance, and preserving that, don’t bother bringing the subject up.
Don’t make it a one-time conversation. It puts too much pressure on everyone. Focus on the action to be taken next as a result of the discussion. Is it choosing an attorney to work with? Follow up conversations with other family members?
Don’t mix oil and water. Or fire and gas. You know what personalities in your family can be bad news together. Not everyone has to have one conversation at one time, just be sure everyone gets on board at the end.
Don’t leave regrets. Children often express regret over not knowing what their parents would have wanted, or not understanding some of the choices they did make. If it matters to you, ask. You’ll be glad you have an answer, even if it may not be the answer you wanted.