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How to talk to relatives about your estate plan

Estate Planning / 14 Jul 2019
WRITTEN BY
Alison Johnston
Alison Johnston
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Death and finances are often difficult topics to discuss with close relatives. We feel uncomfortable bringing them up because no one wants to think about a time when they or their relatives may no longer be around. Add the fact that discussing personal finance is considered a taboo subject, makes discussing your estate plan, i.e. death and finance in one conversation, a tough issue to address.

But others will be affected by the decisions made in an estate plan. Important topics such as; what healthcare decisions will be made for you and who will make them, end of life decisions, who inherits what should all be discussed.

Many people avoid discussing it altogether, leaving it all a surprise after you go. But this often creates unintended consequences, leaving behind a miserable mess as your children try and work out what their parent’s plans were. Result in bitter feelings and legal problems, when they’re already dealing with grief. While easiest, this is not the best route for your relatives.

Is it more important to spare yourself the discomfort of talking about your wishes for a funeral, or more vital to spare your adult children the job of having to agree among themselves about what you would have wanted?

But how do you bring it up?

But how do you really broach this discussion when it centres on topics we’re conditioned to avoid. Just like you may not want to broach this subject, your relatives may not want to either. There is also the challenge of peacefully negotiating these when your relatives might have their own ideas and life plans which may contradict your or other relatives plans, this can be especially complicated if you have a blended family.

The first step to consider is moving away from thinking of this is a purely financial conversation and thinking about it as one where you’re considering what is important to your family and what legacy you want to leave behind.

As financial planner Cheryl Curran says in her book ‘Transparent Legacy’ says ‘Is it more important to spare yourself the discomfort of talking about your wishes for a funeral, or more vital to spare your adult children the job of having to agree among themselves about what you would have wanted.’

After all, relationships matter more than money and things. And the relationships you leave behind are the most essential part of your legacy.

But these conversations don’t have to be scary if approached in the right way. And there is no sure-fire template on what to do as it really depends on your family and relationships, but when thinking about how best to approach it, keep in mind what is more likely to foster goodwill amongst your heirs after you’ve gone.

Having a chat before you put any plan in place is a good way to avoid any hurt feelings,

Reduce any disagreements by speaking to your relatives before putting together your plan

Having a chat before you put any plan in place is a good way to avoid any hurt feelings, as it helps others feel like they have a stake in the conversation, and prevents relatives feeling like their views weren’t considered or no they had no input. It will help reduce any arguments which may occur after the plan is put in place.

Whether you speak to everyone individually or set everyone down at the same time really depends on your family situation. But listening to your heirs and discussing their life plans may give you some useful ideas. For example, one child might have plans to start their own business so would appreciate a lump sum, while another would appreciate having a property of their own. Or there may be particular heirlooms or items of sentimental value they would like to take. You may have promised certain things in the past which you’ve forgotten.

Once you have this information, it would help you put together an estate plan which balances the needs of everyone.

This will perhaps be the most difficult conversation you have, but it will also be one of the most rewarding.

Have another discussion once the plan is in place

When your estate plan is put into place, it’s time to have another chat to make your intentions clear and explain why you made particular decisions. Again whether you have this all together or separately is best for you to judge. But make sure the conversation is consistent between heirs and what is contained in your plan. And if your plan changes, then make sure everyone is aware of that. This will help avoid any confusion and disappointment amongst your heirs.

This discussion shouldn’t only be about how your estate is distributed but also discuss what happens if you lose mental capacity; such as who will have lasting power of attorney, what decisions they can and can’t make. And what wishes you have; such as if they can sell property, what medical treatment you do and don’t want to receive, and where you would like to live; such as if you’re going to go into a care home – where should that be?

Also discuss where they can find relevant documents such as insurance policies, bank account details, and the estate plan itself.

Finally, perhaps the hardest conversation to have is to discuss your funeral arrangements. How do you want to be sent off? Who should be notified? Even specifics such as what music you’d like played or if you’d like donations to a charity.

This will perhaps be the most difficult conversation you have, but it will also be one of the most rewarding. Having the confidence that everything is laid out how you wish, and your relatives are happy with those plans, will help give you reassurance when you most need it.

We can support you at every stage of the way, by giving you information on what and what isn’t possible, how best to balance your plan, and ultimately put it together on your behalf, read more on our estate planning page. Get in touch if you’d like to chat further by filling in a contact form, sending an email to hello@wrightwills.com or give us a call on 020 8619 0358.