When you think about family gatherings that the holidays always bring, using these occasions to discuss estate planning topics probably doesn’t immediately cross your mind. But wait a minute. If your family is like most, the ongoing pandemic has drastically curtailed the amount of time you spend together. If you don’t talk about estate planning now, when will you discuss this all-important topic?
Whatever dynamics exist between and among your family members, talking about estate planning doesn’t need to be a morbid conversation that ruins the holiday. Instead, it can be upbeat, enlightening and the perfect opportunity for everyone to add their input in a relaxed environment. If you’re still hesitant, however, here are some tips on how to start that conversation in a way that’s easier for everyone.
Begin with Celebrities
Everyone enjoys talking about celebrities. Use this to your advantage. For instance, you might want to casually bring up the fact that the following celebrities all made well publicized estate planning mistakes that caused their families a great deal of hardship:
- Michael Jackson, The King of Pop
- Prince, a famous musician renowned as an innovator
- Sonny Bono of Sonny & Cher fame
- Florence Griffith Joyner, aka Flo-Jo, the Olympic track and field star
- James Gandolfini, the “Sopranos” star
- James Brown, the legendary singer and song writer
- Howard Hughes, the aircraft and movie mogul
- Casey Kasem, the famous DJ
- Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul
On the other hand, Ray Charles had an en masse conversation with his 12 children (by nine different mothers) during which he explained how he was planning his estate.
Explain Your Own Estate Plan
Follow Ray Charles’s example by telling your family what steps you have taken to put your own estate plan into motion. These might include the following:
- To whom you’ve given your health care power of attorney to make medical decisions for you if you’re too ill or incapacitated to make them yourself
- Who you named as the executor of your will
- Where you’ve stored your estate planning documents, especially the original of your will
- Which estate planning specialist you consulted
Be open, honest and answer any questions your family members may have. When they see how willing you are to share these personal issues with them, they likely will become more willing to share theirs.
Nudge Your Family Members About Estate Planning
While you always need to respect the boundaries of your various family members, sometimes a little nudging can go a long way. For instance, don’t be afraid to ask the following questions, albeit in a conversational and nonthreatening way:
- What estate planning have you done?
- Which experts helped you?
- Did you remember to update your will when your beautiful baby was born?
- Where are your documents stored?
Set the Stage For Further Conversations
Remind your family that estate planning is neither a one-size-fits-all proposition nor a one-and-done event. As each person’s circumstances change, his or her estate plan needs to change with them. For more tips on how you can get the estate planning conversation going with your family over the holidays, plus ideas for how you can update and improve your own estate plan, contact AmeriEstate Legal Plan. Since 1998, we've helped over 40,000 families plan for the future.