Thanksgiving is a Good Time to Discuss Estate Planning

estate planning
Family Gatherings are Prime Opportunities for Discussions About the Future

Do you subscribe to the belief that family gatherings aren’t an appropriate place to discuss things like politics, religion or money? Many people feel this way, causing them to put off financial discussions about the future for another time. However, when your family is gathered together celebrating Thanksgiving and you’re feeling gratitude for the loved ones around you, it can open the door for important money conversations that impact your family’s future.

Why You Should Never Neglect Estate Planning

Topics such as where your assets will go when you die can be uncomfortable to broach, but estate planning is integral to your family’s financial future. Establishing a thoughtful succession plan using a document like a will or a living trust can benefit your whole family and ensure your wishes will be met. Ideally, you should have these plans in place before an emergency occurs, and while the oldest members of the family are still in good health, both physically and mentally.

This Thanksgiving, in between watching football and sleeping off your turkey dinner, consider scheduling time for an estate planning conversation. Below are tips on how to do so gracefully and tactfully.

Time it Right

Your last will and testament isn’t the sort of thing that naturally comes up in conversation while you’re carving the turkey or passing dinner rolls, so you’ll need to plan ahead to start an estate planning discussion. Even though you may be wondering who will inherit your grandmother’s silver flatware while you’re eating your pumpkin pie, it’s best to wait for a moment when the whole family can be focused and relaxed, with minimal distractions that could derail the conversation.

If it’s possible for the oldest family members to bring up the topic, this is ideal. After all, their estate plans are the timeliest. When parents start the conversation with their adult children, it’s easier for the children to follow their lead. However, parents aren’t always willing or able to organize the discussion, which is when adult children should step in to start a dialogue.

If you find yourself needing to be the first to bring up the topic to your parents and siblings, here’s one possible approach: ask your parents where they keep important papers, records and computer passwords. Then, steer the conversation toward the larger issue of the kinds of plans the family needs to make together.

Establish Boundaries When Discussing the Estate

If you’ve coordinated a time and place to talk and gotten everyone on board, it’s a good idea to set some ground rules for the conversation. For example, remind everyone that the discussion won’t accomplish much unless everyone agrees to be as transparent as possible. Think about asking each family member to write down thoughts, questions or wishes that can be discussed as a group.

Creating a checklist of the things you want to discuss can help ensure the conversation stays on topic. Here are a few examples of things you might include on your list:

  • How your Will divides your assets when you pass away
  • Whether you might establish a living trust to insulate your heirs from estate taxes
  • Who should act as your will’s executor, or the trustee of your trust
  • How you want your children to handle long-term care if you need it in the future
  • Setting up financial and health care power of attorney

While other tangential items may come up in the discussion, the goal of your checklist is to create a framework for the dialogue and ease potential anxiety family members may feel about the conversation. Keep in mind, you won’t make most – or maybe any – decisions in your first discussion, but your checklist can be a place to outline a timeline for future decision-making. Estate planning should be an ongoing subject long after your Thanksgiving celebration ends.

Consider Changing Needs Over Time

It’s normal for older family members to see their estate planning needs change over time. This can happen as they acquire new assets, get rid of assets or experience major life changes like divorce or the death of a spouse. A serious illness, too, can quickly change a person’s financial situation. This is one reason why it’s typically best not to set up expectations about how much, if anything, each family member will inherit. However, if a child in the family has a disability or chronic health concerns, you may choose to discuss whether special provisions will be made for their care.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

An estate planning discussion at Thanksgiving can get the ball rolling for your family’s long-term plans, but money discussions, in general, can be rife with anxiety – and even conflict. Guard against this by openly communicating with everyone involved, even if you can’t all be together for the holiday. For instance, parents should include all adult children in the discussion. This could mean having an individual discussion with each one before or after the family meeting to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Final Thoughts

Estate planning is of the utmost importance and having a simple and straightforward discussion while the family is together at Thanksgiving might be an ideal way to begin this important conversation. Of course, money discussions can cause strife, so it’s important to consider the time and place before broaching the topic. Establishing a framework and expectations can be helpful as the family moves forward together, knowing that the conversation will be ongoing long past the holiday.

If personality clashes or emotions begin to complicate your family’s estate planning dialogue, consider involving an estate planning attorney or a professional financial advisor to ease tensions and provide guidance. After all, when it comes to a critical topic like estate planning, you owe it to your whole family to push through difficult topics and create a thoughtful succession plan.


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