You remember how excited your son Bobby got when you took him to see your stamp collection on display at the museum. He’ll be thrilled it will be there permanently, right? Besides, your retirement account will be enough to send his kids to college. And your daughter Carla and her successful husband don’t really need anything; she already got what really mattered to her when Maggie died and she got the china and silverware, didn’t she?
Talking about death or money is no fun and both together—yikes! But having your children spend the rest of their lives upset because they didn’t understand why you did what you did is even worse. Loved ones often take things out on each other and the only ones who benefit are the lawyers. That’s really not whom you wanted to leave your estate to, is it?
Here are a few tips to make it easier to talk about:
- Set aside plenty of uninterrupted time for it and tell everyone ahead of time—don’t just spring it on them next Thanksgiving.
- Yes, it’s your money. But once you’ve spoken, listen, listen, listen. Ask questions. Tell your loved ones you really want to know how they feel.
- Be prepared for longstanding issues to surface. If you think they’ve never been happy you remarried, tell them how important it was to you. And listen some more.
- If history comes up that you regret, acknowledge how you feel now. Money is a proxy for past hurts and the more they are resolved, the more likely your wishes will be honored.
- Talk before finalizing your estate plan no matter how set it is. There’s an enormous difference between the plan can’t change and the plan is unlikely to.
- Small changes can make big differences. Unexpected things may matter much more to a loved one than to you.
- Hire someone to facilitate the conversation. Many people can be more forthcoming to a stranger than directly to you.
- Talk more than once. If it doesn’t go well—and it might not, especially early on—keep trying. The alternative is things going worse when you’re gone.
- Pat yourself on the back for taking the most important step to a successful estate plan.
Rob Rosborough is a mediator, teacher and attorney. His mediation practice focuses on disputes where an ongoing relationship is at stake, particularly elder/adult-family conflict such as disagreement over caring for an aging parent. He teaches conflict resolution skills for use in everyday life to older adults at USF’s Fromm Institute. And he maintains a general advisory and transactional law practice focusing on personal and small business issues, including end-of-life planning. He also helps lawyers cope with the stresses of practice and life by teaching them meditation skills as a certified iRest® meditation teacher.
He can be reached at rrosborough (at) montywhitelaw.com