When you’re estate planning, there is but one goal. To make sure that you and your family are as prepared as possible.
One way to do that is to have everyone on the same page. To go through your plan, let them know what they can expect, what they should look for, and where everything is.
At your passing, you want your family to only worry about grieving. Being prepared and organized does that.
Let’s explore how to talk about estate planning with your family and how to handle this difficult topic.
What have you done so far and what do you plan to do?
In my experience, an estate plan is always a work in progress. Seldom do people have it completely finished when their time comes, however, most of the changes towards the end are very minor.
That said, when you start this discussion, it’s important to tell your family where you are in the estate planning process. What have you done so far and what do you need to do?
This serves two purposes. One, it communicates what still has to be done, just in case your passing is untimely (though it often is). Two, nobody likes doing this stuff so being transparent indirectly gives you a few accountability partners so you get done what needs to get done.
What do they need to know?
There are many things that go into an estate plan. I wrote an in-depth guide, here. Without diving too deep into this material, here’s what your family needs to know:
- A living will - If you are alive, but are unable to make decisions, your wishes need to be laid out. What to do if you wind up in a coma and other scenarios that would leave you incapacitated.
- POA for healthcare - The person in charge of making medical decisions if you are unable to make your own. This can be a separate document or detailed in the living will.
- POA for finances - THe person responsible for making financial decisions. Again, can be on its own or in the living will.
- Location of documents and logins - Where is everything? This is a vital step because the last thing your family needs is to be frantically looking for important documents, such as social security card, birth certificate, the deed to the house, will, insurance policies, account numbers, etc.
- Debts and assets - What do you owe and what do you have? The former is more important, honestly (unless you're a money hungry heir - if that’s the case, see below). What your family needs to know is how much money you owe, if any, and the account numbers and policy numbers (annuities and whole life policies). That way they can transfer your assets.
- Insurance policies, including life - Do you still have life insurance? If so, how much and what kind of policy is it? If the policy is in force, what are the payments like and does it still make sense to keep it? There are several questions to consider, go through this carefully.
- How the house is titled - If you are looking to avoid as much of the legal/probate/tax as possible, it might make sense to have everything registered under a trust. Whether that’s your plan or not, you need to let everyone know who owns the home. Jointly owned with your spouse? In your kid's names?
- Wishes for care - If you are no longer able to take of yourself, how do you want to be cared for? Do you want to stay at home or go into a facility? Do you have long-term care insurance?
- Retirement funding - Are you able to fund your own retirement? If the answer is no, what factors did you use to come to that conclusion? Have your expenses been trimmed? Have you downsized? Another question is where do you want to retire? Out of state or the country?
- Funeral and burial - Finally, how would you like your funeral and burial handled?
The goal of the discussion
It’s to get on the same page. It’s to understand what each person is going through, what each person must deal with, and how everyone is feeling about the whole thing.
Look, it’s not a fun conversation to have, but it MUST be done. Being unprepared or in the dark are two places you do not want to be when the time comes.
It’s time to discuss how you, the family member, should hand this conversation.
How to handle the talk
- Be patient - There are some families who have been around death enough that this may be a rather easy conversation, and there are others that will have a tough time. The key is to be patient. Don’t push for information. Don’t get hostile when you hear something you don’t like. Be understanding and empathize. Be someone they can count on, not someone they have to worry about.
- Take notes - Whether they have everything prepared or they’re in the beginning stages, there’s going to be a lot to talk about. Make sure you take copious notes about everything.
- Ask questions - If there’s something you don’t understand or you’re questioning how they’ve organized something, ask. Make sure, however, that you have the right tone, attitude, and verbiage with the question. Again, this is a delicate conversation and you want to ask from a place of love and concern.
Don’t be THAT family member
Caution. I’m going to come off slightly hostile/angry in this section. It’s only because I’m speaking from personal experience.
Don’t be the family member that turns against everyone because they’re money hungry, or because they have decades of bottled up feelings they haven’t dealt with. Don’t be the family member that stabs their siblings in the back.
Guess what? Whomever the person is that’s setting up the estate plan, it’s THEIRS. It’s their money, their property, their life. They have a RIGHT to do with what they however they wish.
Please, for the sake of all of your loved ones, don’t be this person.
Like I said, talking about this stuff isn’t fun, but it has to be done. The more informed and the more prepared you are the better. If those ducks are in a row, you can grieve when that time comes and be with family.