The holiday season will not automatically strike most people as the best time to talk about death and estate planning, but considering it is one of the most important topics a family can discuss together, a gathering centred around the holidays may be one of the best occasions to raise the issue.
If you’re wondering how to delicately and appropriately broach the subject, here are our 10 tips for talking about estate planning this holiday season.
Be prepared with a list of questions
You don’t need to plan the whole conversation out in detail but being ready to ask particular questions can help lead the discussion. For example, you might want to know who will inherit the family business if there are a few interested parties, or how to handle affairs in the instance a sudden death or permanent injury occurs.
Ease into the discussion
Delving straight into talk of death can be unsettling, so why not ease into the discussion? A nice way to begin could be by asking those present about the type of legacy they might like to leave or what they’d like done with certain special items after they pass. For example, is there a particular piece of jewellery or an heirloom that a certain person should receive?
Don’t try to resolve it all at once
Death and subsequent inheritance can be a dark and morbid topic and it is not something that needs to be tackled all at once.
Read the room and if it seems as though people are uncomfortable or want to close off the conversation, let it rest until another opportunity arises. It will be far more productive to speak with equally interested parties rather than trying to get through to those who do not want to talk about it any longer.
Ensure everyone is comfortable
Before you try to open the discussion you should ensure that it is the right environment in which to do so. If someone has just announced some news (whether negative or positive) or there is tension in the air, then it probably isn’t the right time to turn everyone’s attention to estate planning. If, however, the conversation is flowing, and the topic can be raised casually, then that may indicate that it is an opportune time to start discussing this sometimes uncomfortable topic.
Thinking about and discussing death is generally unpleasant. Many will be uncomfortable speaking about it freely, which means it may take extra time, sensitivity, and empathy for them to open up and warm to the conversation.
Be patient and try not to rush anyone into sharing their thoughts. Pushing someone to discuss their passing may come across as greedy, callous, and uncaring, so watch out for verbal and non-verbal cues and proceed accordingly.
Start off with storytelling
Sharing an anecdote or topical news story about the importance of preparing a Will can help make estate planning to be more relatable or real. Search for a recent article, even if it is about a celebrity or public figure, and start the conversation off in a light-hearted way.
Be clear about what you want
Sometimes it can help to share your own wishes first. If there is an heirloom that has special meaning to you, or you’d like to play a particular role in the funeral, for example, then speak up when appropriate. Being upfront about your desires can be a good ice breaker and can normalise the discussion for other people.
Having a conversation about death and estate planning should be done for the right reasons, which might include understanding your loved one’s wishes for their funeral or precious belongings or who they intend for the Executor of their Will to be. With that in mind, you should keep your comments respectful and in line with the tone of the person whose estate and/or death you are discussing. Let them set the pace and be mindful of any boundaries they clearly do not want to be crossed.
Give context to the conversation
If you are concerned about looking like you are discussing the estate for the wrong reasons, try to help your loved ones understand that having these talks in advance can save time, money, and potentially even relationships down the track. A well-planned estate can make way for a seamless probate and distribution process and most people would want to leave their affairs in good order to reduce stress for those who survive them.
Be a source of information
Approximately 50% of all Australian adults have a Will, which means the other half may die intestate. No matter what the size of a person’s estate is, it is important that they have a Will to inform any surviving family or friends of how they would like their assets and belongings distributed.
Dying without a Will can add unnecessary stress, time constraints, and even costs to have the estate settled, and it may not end up being distributed in the way the deceased would have liked had they died with a Will in place.
Having a Will prepared can be a very straightforward process that people often try to avoid because they think it may be costly or time-consuming, however, in most cases instructions can be provided over the phone or by video conference with just one or two short visits being made to a lawyer’s office for finalising. If you need to have a Will prepared, our experienced Wills and Estate lawyers can assist.