Sex, politics, and money are three uncomfortable topics that don’t get discussed much around the family dinner table.
For the most part, and for most families, this is a good thing. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Couples who have pre-teen kids will soon find themselves giving the awkward “bird and the bees” talk. Around elections, politics will no doubt be the subject of spirited debate. And as for money, estate planning becomes an important topic as the years go by.
Topics that involve money, including estate planning, are often touchy subjects. In fact, estate planning is frequently more difficult to discuss than other money-related topics because it involves not just money but also the inevitable death of a family member. (If few people like to talk about money, even fewer like to discuss their own mortality.)
Despite the difficulty, it is essential to discuss estate planning with your family.
We’ve talked earlier on our blog about the importance of talking about estate planning with your family. (See our posts about Casey Kasem’s family feud, talking about caregiving with your parents, family heirlooms, and making settling your affairs easier for your family, among others.)
If you leave your family in the dark about your estate planning wishes, it opens up the possibility of a feud after your death. (Consider the famous cases of celebrities Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, Steve McNair, and Whitney Houston.) This is true whether or not you have a lot of money: hurt feelings can arise over even insignificant and perceived slights. And while they may not end up in court, your family may still be negatively affected by surprises and misunderstandings in your estate plan.
In addition to preventing family strife, talking about estate planning with your family has other benefits, according to Fidelity. It can help you prepare your family (both emotionally and practically), pass on your values, and explain the kind of legacy that you would like to leave.
So how should you approach this tough subject?
At Lovett & House Co., LPA, we recommend starting the conversation early. Don’t wait until a sudden illness or other crisis makes it immediately necessary. At that point, tensions will be high, and the conversation will become much more stressful and less effective.
Instead, involve your family from the beginning. You don’t have to go into extreme detail about the state of your finances or the inheritance that your heirs will receive. However, you should give your heirs at least a general idea of what they can expect. (Having money unexpectedly dropped in one’s lap has often lead to bad financial decision-making.) You may also want to give explanations for your decisions in order to prevent your family from feeling that you played favorites. Depending on your situation, you may even involve your family in the decision-making process. (For example, it may not matter to you who gets the silver and who gets the china—but your family members may have a preference.)
We also recommend that family members are all involved to some degree, with no one left out—if possible. The discussion should involve all family members who will be affected by the estate plan. When certain members are left out—particularly without explanation—resentment can build in the family.
When the whole family is involved in the estate planning process, it nearly always makes the process more meaningful, more effective, and more likely to bond—rather than divide—the family.