Talking About Estate Planning With Family

Estate planning is one of the most important steps you can take to help protect your family’s future — but it’s also an incredibly difficult thing to talk about, for many people. After all, talking about estate planning will almost always mean having to address heavy concepts such as death and money — “two topics we love to avoid,” as author Brad Klontz put it to Kiplinger

What Goes Into Estate Planning?

Estate planning is about making arrangements during your lifetime for what will happen to your estate when you become incapacitated or pass away. While many people think of the financial aspects of estate planning — such as writing a will or creating a trust in order to distribute your property — there is even more to it than that. 

A comprehensive estate plan will allow you to determine who will serve as guardian to your children, when you cannot be there. It also involves planning for incapacity, and making arrangements for who will manage your healthcare and financial decisions should you ever be unable to communicate or make choices on your own. 

In short, estate planning is a powerful way to make sure your wishes are carried out, while also making a difficult transition a lot easier for your loved ones. On the other hand, if you become incapacitated or pass away without an estate plan, your family and friends may be forced to deal with extensive legal battles, costly probate fees, and lots of confusion — making an already-difficult time even tougher.

The Importance of Talking About Estate Planning

Over the years, research has shown just how much families will try to avoid talking about all of the loaded subjects involved in estate planning, including aging, money, and end-of-life issues. 

According to a recent study from Caring.com, 60% of people say that they think that estate planning is “very or somewhat important” — yet only 32% actually have basic estate planning documents, such as a will, in place. This includes more than 50% of adults 55 and older! 

In that same survey, 61% of respondents said that they had not yet started the estate planning process, and only 20% said that they had spoken to a loved one about it.

Similarly, research from Independent Age suggests that Americans are also reluctant to talk about matters like dying and end-of-life care. Among all people, 46% said that talking about their preferences for end-of-life care ranked as one of the three most difficult things to talk about. 63% of 65-74 year olds say that they have never had a discussion about end-of-life issues. Among younger adults, 81% believe that it is important to talk to an older relative about end-of-life matters — but just 20% have actually discussed this with them.

So, what’s holding people back from these difficult conversations? According to Independent Age, some of the top barriers to talking about aging and estate planning include: 

  • Lacking the knowledge and confidence to begin a conversation
  • Wanting to avoid “undesirable possibilities”
  • Anticipating the reaction of family members
  • Feeling that the time is not right 

While it can seem daunting, talking about estate planning with your family is an important step forward — whether you are a parent or grandparent looking to communicate your wishes to your loved ones, or a son or daughter hoping to encourage your parents to get started with estate planning. 

Ready to start the estate planning process for yourself? Having these meaningful conversations now can help streamline things for your loved ones down the road, helping clear up questions, save time and money, and minimize the risk of disputes and disagreements among your family. 

Interested in talking seriously about estate planning with a parent, a spouse, or another loved one? No one wants to be blindsided by the news that they have been asked to serve as an executor or trustee, or to learn that the inheritance they anticipated may not be coming. Discussing estate planning expectations and potential probate issues now can help ensure that you and your loved ones are all on the same page, allowing you to move forward with confidence and peace of mind. 

Making the Planning Talk Easier

Looking to start the estate planning conversation, but not sure where to begin? Curious about concrete steps you can take to make sure these important talks go smoothly? We know talking about these subjects can be nerve-racking!

Let’s look at a few ways to start the estate planning conversation with your loved ones — and help make sure that these discussions are as clear and productive as possible, for everyone involved: 

Accentuate the Positives

A major study once looked at the reasons why families avoid talking about difficult subjects, and found that a majority of respondents feared experiencing “negative consequences” prior to having the conversations. However, after actually holding the talk, most people reported positive results! 

It can be intimidating to bring up aging, death, finances, and other big topics. To make these heavy subjects more approachable, try to reframe the conversation to think about the positives. For example, rather than dwelling on scary things with a parent who would rather not think about them, it may help to emphasize that estate planning is about taking meaningful, proactive actions — which can help everyone in your family save on money, stress, and time down the line. 

Scared of even bringing up estate planning among your loved ones? When approaching difficult talks, it often helps to practice grounding exercises like deep breathing. You can find a great list of anxiety-reducing ideas to try out, here. Similarly, it may help to think about the beneficial outcomes that may be waiting for you and your loved ones. Won’t it be a relief to talk about things, and get the weight off your chest? Won’t it feel good to move forward with clarity, peace of mind, and a new level of trust and openness among your family? 

Start the Conversation Early

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that you and your loved ones should try to talk about estate planning early and often, before an emergency sends everyone into “crisis mode.” It can be hard to talk clearly and make big decisions when everyone is reacting to a major life event. Instead, try to start having these important conversations when everyone is calm, relaxed, and has time to talk. 

At the same time, be ready to keep talking. If you’re just broaching the subject, don’t expect to have the entire conversation all at once. It may take lots of stopping and starting before you’re able to fully communicate about plans and expectations with your loved ones. 

Similarly, remember that a person’s estate plan should be refined as their personal and family circumstances change — so this is a topic you may want to keep bringing up after a loved one experiences a major milestone or life transition, such as getting married or adopting a child. 

Find Ways to “Break the Ice”

Look for ways to ease into conversations about estate planning. Rather than directly asking if your loved one has thought about their plans, for example, you might get started by talking about a relevant story in the news, or something that has happened to a friend or family member. This can be a great way to “break the ice” and get conversation flowing, even if it may seem scary at first. 

Talking with a loved one who keeps putting off estate planning, or who is just getting started? It may also help to avoid getting bogged down with numbers just yet. Instead, talk about the frameworks, tools, and ideas behind estate planning and probate, then move onto the specifics once everyone’s a little more comfortable with the topic. 

Try to Meet Face-to-Face — and See Eye-to-Eye

If it’s possible, try to get together with your loved ones in person — or at least over a Zoom call. It can be easy for someone to ignore voice messages, texts, and emails, particularly if they’re already looking for an excuse to avoid talking about estate planning. 

Similarly, try to get all of the decision-makers involved. For example, if you’re trying to bring up estate planning with a reluctant parent, it may help for all of the siblings to come together, as a show of good faith. When you do get down into the details, having everyone present can make a big difference. For example, this can help a parent understand their children’s goals and wishes, rather than basing their estate planning decisions on inaccurate assumptions. 

When you do talk, be patient, empathetic, open-minded, and willing to listen to the concerns and fears of others. Try to be understanding, and do whatever you can to avoid getting lost in an argument. It may help to create a safe space for open communication by laying down some agreed-upon “ground rules” ahead of time. 

Bring In Someone You Trust

As you move forward with your estate planning conversations, it may help to bring an experienced, compassionate third party, such as an attorney. For families diving into estate planning for the first time, an experienced estates and probate attorney can help lead productive discussions and moderate disagreements or conflicts as they come up. 

Even more importantly, an attorney can help you understand all of the important concepts and mechanisms it takes to prepare for probate and create a holistic estate plan tailor-made for your unique circumstances, including naming an executor to oversee your estate; naming a guardian for your children or any disabled adults in your care; creating a valid will; understanding the benefits and uses of a trust and designing one to suit your needs; designating a power of attorney for healthcare and finances; and considering an advanced directive or “living will,” to prepare for the potential for incapacitation. 

Interested in Getting Started With Estate Planning? We’re Here for You.

Preparing for the unknown can be difficult, especially if you are doing it alone. Whether you’re looking to get started with estate planning, update your current plan, or guide an estate through the complex Illinois probate process, our team of experienced and compassionate advocates is here to help. 

At The Law Offices of J. Jeltes, LTD., we know what it takes to guide you through some of life’s most challenging family transitions. As you look to the future, we can help you understand what goes into the estate planning process, evaluate your assets, and prepare all necessary documents, including basic wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and advanced directives. 

Our legal professionals are driven, attentive, and dedicated to achieving the best result possible.  Every situation is unique and before hiring our firm, our attorneys will provide you with a comprehensive one-on-one consultation to discuss your legal concerns and goals. 

Have any more questions? Ready to get started? Don’t hesitate to contact us whenever you’d like to begin the conversation.

During this unpredictable time, legal assistance can be provided remotely and electronically. Currently, clients and potential clients can schedule a meeting or consultation via phone call or Zoom conferencing during normal business hours, or alternate hours upon request. If you have a legal issue to address, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.