I know that talking to your kids about your estate plan is probably not high on your priority list. In my experience kids frequently don’t want to discuss the possibility of their parents dying, and certainly don’t want to dwell on the subject. I had a client just the other day who brought her daughter with her, and the daughter broke down crying during the discussion. I didn’t mean to cause anyone to cry, but the daughter was distraught at just the thought of Mom not being around. I understand that the conversation may be unpleasant and unwanted, but it needs to happen. Here are some suggestions on how to go about having the discussion:
What To Not Do
First, let’s cover what not to do: Check out this video that is full of confusing words, technical jargon, and overall is just completely ineffective at explaining what is being presented (even though it is funny) . The entire video is explaining how a cabinet works, but is presented in such a confusing manner that you kind of wonder what you just watched. My father showed me the video when I was a teen, and I have laughed at it ever since. Don’t act like this video when you talk to your kids. When you are discussing your estate plan to your kids, you don’t need to try and use all the legal language that an attorney may have used. Instead, you want to use common, everyday language, so your kids understand what you are saying.
Do This Instead
Keep the conversation light, not delving too deeply into the dark aspects of estate planning. Emphasize the benefit to your kids, and don’t get bogged down in what will happen. Just prepare your kids, without scaring them.
Keep It Light
Of course, you cannot always keep the conversation light. Just the bare facts can sometimes be counterproductive. For instance, my father worked for a company that sold technology. He once told me that the company could probably market sushi using the advertising slogan: “Sushi: Cold, dead, fish.” Somehow that type overly literal advertising does not make sushi sound like anything anyone would like to eat. There are those that love sushi, and those that would never touch sushi, but that advertising slogan will not entice anyone to want to eat sushi. Instead, it would drive people away.
Emphasize How Your Estate Plan Will Benefit the Kids
A far better approach to discussing your estate plan with your kids is to highlight what the estate plan will do for them. When you discuss your will or trust with your kids, you will want to explain the facts about what will happen with assets. If you have all of your assets being split equally among the kids, then you can let them know that is the case. If you have an unequal split, you can let the kids know why the split is unequal. If you have specific gifts, you can let your kids know who is getting what specific gifts. You can even choose to explain why you split assets the way that you have planned. This is a good way to avoid fights among the kids after you die.
By having a conversation with your kids before you die, you can address many concerns that your kids may have, and allay those concerns before they become insurmountable problems and disputes…perhaps even disputes that result in lawsuits and fighting among kids. If we can avoid lawsuits and legal fights, more of your assets get to your kids, and less to the attorneys involved in the legal fights. You can discuss how the estate plan will split up assets, emphasizing how the orderly transition of assets will help avoid fights. The more you focus such a discussion on the benefit to your kids, rather than the doom and gloom, the sad parts connected to a discussion of your estate plan, the easier the discussion can be.
Focus on the Benefits, and Don’t Scare or Upset Someone
Like the client I referenced at the beginning of this post, you don’t want to upset your family, nor do you want to make them cry. Instead, you want to have this important discussion in a way that doesn’t dwell on the sad subject of death. When you discuss who will be your agent under a power of attorney, you just want to make sure the assigned agent knows they will have that role, not beat it into them that they will need to act when you are unable because you are incapacitated, or dead. Also, when you can discuss how you have already decided on end of life treatment options, let your kids know you decided for them, so they don’t have to make such an impossible decision of when to end treatment. This can help decrease the possibility that anyone will feel responsible for a parent’s death. At least you can help your kids not feel any more upset about how things go at the end of life, other than dealing with the inevitable sadness connected to the death of a parent.
The more that you can emphasize how the estate plan will benefit your kids, rather than just what will happen in your estate plan, the smoother the conversation will go. Of course, letting your kids know what will happen is an essential part of setting up an estate plan, so don’t ignore what will happen completely.
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