ClickCease

How to discuss estate planning with your family

Estate planning can be a tricky topic to discuss with your family. Here's what to know about how to talk to your family about estate planning.

evident Editorial Team
published
August 23, 2021
Family drinking coffee and discussing estate planning.

Estate planning is a difficult topic for many families. No one enjoys planning for their loved ones’ passing, but it’s an important conversation to have. 

We’ve compiled a step-by-step guide to help you approach the conversation with empathy and better understand what you can do to help your loved ones prepare their estate plan.

What is estate planning and why is it important?

An estate plan is key to ensuring your final wishes are respected and your assets are properly distributed after you pass away. Creating an estate plan also provides your relatives with peace of mind knowing they’re respecting your wishes regarding your estate and your end-of-life medical treatment. 

Estate plans can also help prevent family conflict later on and limit government involvement in the distribution of your assets. If a family member dies without an estate plan, the court will determine where their belongings go, and a large portion of their estate will likely be lost to taxes, legal fees, and court costs. 

Estate planning also has importance in dictating your end-of-life medical care, who will care for your children, and who will handle your affairs in the event you become incapacitated. This is just one reason that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be wealthy to have an estate plan.

But despite how crucial estate planning is, it doesn’t always make for an easy conversation with loved ones. Below are steps to help you successfully start a conversation about estate planning with a relative.

Key Takeaways

How to successfully approach the topic of estate planning with family

Here are 7 steps to help you successfully broach and navigate talking about estate planning with your family.

1. Start the conversation sooner rather than later

Estate planning may be a sensitive topic to bring up with family members, and that’s okay. No one enjoys planning for their death or incapacitation. Remind yourself that no matter how stressful this conversation may be now, the situation will be even more difficult and stressful if a loved one passes away without an estate plan. 

It’s important to start the estate planning conversation as soon as possible, particularly if you’re hoping to encourage an older relative to get their estate plan in order. Approaching the topic can be tricky – here are some tips on bringing it up: 

  • Use a news story you recently read as a segue into the conversation
  • Tie the need for an estate plan into a recent family event (the birth of new children, grandchildren, a recent health event, etc.)
  • Share your own positive experience getting your estate plan in order and how you’d be willing to help them do the same 

No matter how you do it, it’s important to approach the conversation with empathy. Make it clear that you’re willing to help because you care about their well-being and ensuring that their end-of-life wishes are carried out.

2. Include all of the necessary family members in the conversation

Estate plans are a common point of contention in families after a relative passes away. The best way to avoid this is to ensure all relevant family members are included in conversations on estate planning from the very beginning. 

Adopt a mindset of inclusiveness and transparency when discussing estate planning. If a family member feels excluded, there’s a much higher likelihood of a costly disagreement occurring later. The goal should be to ensure all parties involved have a clear understanding of what to expect as well as their role in the plan.

3. Understand your relative’s wishes

When assisting an older relative in their estate planning, recognize that the final say on their plan lies with them alone. Act as a resource for them, but understand that this is their money. Your primary role is to provide information and assistance – not make decisions for them. 

Because estate planning also includes documents relating to end-of-life care (health directives, powers of attorney, etc.), it’s a good idea to have a conversation on their plans for retirement and beyond to get a better understanding of how you can help carry out their wishes as they grow older.

4. Establish an understanding of the plan among family members

It’s sometimes helpful to establish a general understanding among family members of what’s included in the estate and how it will be divided to avoid surprises later on. However, this is by no means a requirement, and depends on how comfortable your family member is with sharing details. 

This conversation usually involves a discussion about money, and it’s perfectly normal for a relative to feel uncomfortable discussing finances with you. Don’t take offense. If this happens, consider directing them to a financial planner or an estate planning attorney so they can talk with a professional instead.

5. Determine what’s already been done and what needs to be updated and created

For those who began estate planning early in their adult lives, updating your estate plan is extremely important. This includes ensuring it reflects the correct number of children, removing a former spouse, or adding the assets you’ve collected in the time since. 

Check with your relative to understand what documents they’ve already completed to assess which they still need to address.

6. Ensure all family members understand their roles in the plan

Estate plans usually involve appointing several people to fill certain positions. This includes:

  • An executor for your estate (the person who administers your estate upon your death)
  • A guardian (the person you appoint to take care of your minor children)
  • Agents for your powers of attorney 

Family members typically fill these positions, but it’s a good idea to make sure these relatives are comfortable with being assigned a role within an estate plan. Becoming an agent for a power of attorney, for example, can be a big job in which you have to make critical medical decisions that not everyone may be comfortable making.

7. Help them find the necessary legal help

Do-it-yourself estate planning online is certainly an option. Several sites allow you to form trusts and wills online quickly and for cheaper rates than hiring an attorney. 

Online estate planning can be useful, but it’s easy to make an error that could have repercussions for your loved ones later down the road if you don’t have a professional review your documents. It’s wise to hire an estate planning attorney to ensure that doesn’t happen. 

An attorney can also act as a resource to answer all of your family’s questions about this process. Estate planning can be a sensitive subject, so having a professional to provide reassurance and guidance can be worth the extra money. 

evident is another great resource for finding the right attorney. On evident, you can easily compare estate planning attorneys by experience, price, and customer reviews – and you’ll hear from all of your attorney options on why they think they’re the best person to take your case.

Key estate planning documents to get in order

Estate plans can involve several documents. It’s a good idea to at least have the four basic documents in order, which include: a will, living will, power of attorney, and trust. 

Below you’ll find a brief explanation of what to know about each document:

Will

Your will dictates several things after you pass away, including how your assets will be distributed to your beneficiaries, details on how and where you wish to be buried, and who will become the legal guardian for your minor children. 

It’s easiest to think of a will as an instruction manual for your loved ones to follow once you pass away. If you want your son or daughter to end up with a specific piece of artwork or jewelry, you’d include that in your will to ensure they have a legal claim to it after you die.

Naming a guardian for your children in your will

If discussing estate planning with a relative who has minor children, it’s important for them to list a guardian to care for their children in their will in the event both parents pass away. Passing away without naming a guardian will mean that the court decides who raises their children. 

Most people assume the court will appoint the childrens’ grandparents or aunts and uncles as the legal guardian, but this isn’t a safe assumption. There is still a chance that the affected children could end up in foster care, especially if the children are too young to express their wishes. 

It's best to list one first-choice guardian in your will as well as at least one alternate. Many people opt to list three potential guardians in successive order. 

Additionally, it’s very important to ask for permission from all potential guardians before listing them in your will. It’s not safe to assume someone will be willing to take the job.

Living will (healthcare directive)

A living will – also known as a healthcare directive – is a document in which you state your wishes for your end-of-life medical care in the event you become unable to communicate those wishes. 

Living wills differ from Medical POAs because a Medical POA grants another individual the legal right to make decisions on your behalf. Despite the similarities, many estate planning attorneys recommend setting up both documents in order to ensure your wishes are clear and there’s someone authorized to carry out anything you didn’t outline in your living will.

A living will often includes your decisions on the use of emergency treatments to keep you alive. Because living wills deal with medical decisions that are impossible to predict, it’s a good idea to encourage your relatives to include the document as part of their estate plan.

Power of attorney

There are several kinds of powers of attorney, but in essence, a power of attorney agreement gives another person the legal authority to make decisions on your behalf. This can mean you give someone the power to manage your property, finances, or make medical decisions for you – or all of the above.

Learn more about the different types of powers of attorney here and learn more about Durable POAs here.

Trusts 

Trusts are a legal agreement in which the trustor (the person who creates the trust) gives another individual (the trustee) the legal title to property or other assets that the trustee will distribute to a beneficiary at a later date. 

Assets you place under a trust are no longer considered part of your estate, which provides more flexibility on how those assets are distributed, and generally exempts those assets from the probate process. 

Read more about the different kinds of trusts in our Estate Planning Overview here.

The final word on discussing estate planning with family

Talking to a relative about their estate plan can seem daunting, but it’s an important conversation to have. And each of the documents covered above serves a purpose that will make it easier to deal with your relative’s passing when that time comes. 

Approach the conversation with empathy and understanding, and don’t be afraid to consult an estate planning attorney to make the process easier.