5 Tips for Starting a Dialogue Around Your Estate Plan

Sitting down with an estate planner to develop an estate plan is a smart first step. But signing your documents is not the end of the process. In order to ensure your wishes and desires are protected, you need to have some frank conversations with your fiduciaries.

The Importance of Dialogue

There’s never a comfortable time to discuss the thought that you won’t be able to manage your own affairs (whether that be incapacity or death). However, it’s a sober reality. And those who choose to confront this reality and plan ahead for it often discover a great sense of peace around the future. After implementing a plan, it’s imperative that you turn that plan into a tactful conversation with your fiduciaries, and maybe your loved ones and heirs.

From your perspective, having these discussions provides considerable peace of mind. It helps you rest at night knowing that you prepared your fiduciaries (those people who graciously agreed to this awesome responsibility) to execute your plan precisely as its been drafted. (After openly discussing your plan, it’s also possible that you discover areas of your plan that need to be cleared up, shifted, or addressed anew.)

From the perspective of your fiduciaries who must carry out your instructions, and your survivors and heirs who have expectations of support or inheritance, frank dialogue around your estate plan helps them understand your intentions and helps set their expectations. This ensures they’re able to maximize the benefits, avoid conflict, and spend the days, weeks, and months after your passing properly remembering your legacy (as opposed to feeling stressed about financial and logistical details that they find unclear).

Perhaps even more importantly, a dialogue about estate planning serves as a vehicle for imparting family values, empowering your heirs, and cultivating a cohesive understanding of your philosophy and the expectations you have for your family moving forward.

In many cases, these conversations will catalyze adult children to begin developing their own responsible estate plans. After all, estate planning isn’t just for those in their retirement years. There are powerful advantages to preparing early and often.

5 Tips for Talking About Your Estate Plan

As important as these discussions are, it can be difficult to initiate dialogue around your estate plan. But the more you prepare for these conversations, the smoother they’ll be. Here are some helpful suggestions to get you moving in the right direction:

1. Gather the Right People

The first step in this process is to gather the right people. This is a conversation that you have with those who are directly involved in the execution of your estate and/or who will be on the receiving end of it.

People commonly include executors, trustees, parents, children, spouses, and even key business partners in these conversations. Anyone who will be directly impacted by the execution of your estate plan is a candidate for inclusion in these discussions.

2. Split it Into Multiple Conversations

It’s up to you to determine how you want to dialogue on this topic. Different approaches include:

  • Have one big conversation with your entire family. This may include fiduciaries, adult children, and even older grandchildren. This approach is efficient, but is largely dependent on the family dynamic. (It only works if everyone is close and gets along.)
  • Have multiple conversations – one with each child’s family and/or fiduciary. This allows you to tailor your delivery and explanation to each person, but also requires more of your time and energy. (It’s also possible that your words could be interpreted differently by various individuals.)

Different strokes for different folks. No two situations are the same – so carefully consider your family’s dynamic and how you prefer to proceed so that your discussions can deliver maximum impact.

3. Pick the Right Time

Timing is everything. Knowing when to broach the subject can mean the difference between a smooth and successful conversation and one that leaves people confused.

If possible, pick a time that’s positive and comfortable. It’s better to have these discussions when everyone is healthy and calm.

4. Be Sincere

When speaking with loved ones and heirs about inheritance plans, it should be overly apparent to everyone that you’re being honest, sincere, and thoughtful. Your words should be delivered with clarity, conviction, and the utmost confidence. If you need to write out a memo and read from it, then by all means, start typing!

5. Prepare to Field Questions

It’s rare that an estate or legacy conversation is one-sided. In fact, you don’t want it to be one-sided. If it turns into a monologue or lecture, you’re probably not producing maximum impact.

These conversations need to have back and forth dialogue – and you must be prepared! Expect people to ask questions and seek further information to clarify particular statements. You don’t have to have all of the answers, but you should be prepared with some basic knowledge so that you can create as much clarity as possible.

With all of the unique circumstances and changes happening in today’s world, it’s an important time to think about estate planning. But in addition to drafting up your documents, you need to use this concerning time as an opportunity to discuss your plan with your heirs.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that estate planning is about more than documents. It’s about the feeling of knowing that things will be handled, in a way that you’d handle them, that benefits you, your loved ones and ensures your legacy lives on in powerful and fond ways.

My name is Michael Blacksburg and I’m an estate planning attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you’re looking to develop a sophisticated estate plan that’s specifically tailored to your needs, goals, hopes, and dreams, I would love the opportunity to partner with you.

Whether you’re seeking to develop your estate plan from scratch or establish clarity around what it looks like to initiate an estate conversation, I’m available to help you iron out the details. Please contact me at your earliest convenience and we’ll get started!