Table of people to signify talking to your family at the holidays about your willWe're approaching the end of the year and the various holiday seasons that come along with that approach. There will be lots of things going on these next few weeks, but one thing you should keep in mind is that with your family gathered, it may be a good time to consider having some serious discussions with your family. This won't be feasible for all families and it's not like talking about estate planning is a traditional part of a holiday meal.

However, for those families that take the time with their family to have these kinds of conversations, they can be a great way to add to their financial preparation for the future and allow everyone to be on the same page for some large upcoming decisions. But it's not always a natural fit around the dinner table, so I've had many clients ask about some tactics or tips for how to have that big conversation about your will with your family.

I've run across five tips for having these conversations, and it's not required that you do them at the holidays!

Five Tips for Talking With Your Family About Your Will

Before you try to force the discussion, a disclaimer: You don't have to tell your family what's in your will. It's ok (and common) that your family doesn't ever see what's in your will until after you've died. Over the years, you may make a variety of updates to the documents, and it's up to you if you'd like to share those changes with your family or not. But if you do choose to have these discussions, here's five quick tips:

  1. Choose the Right Time and Place ~ Everyone's going to be around the holiday table for dinner, but that's probably not the right place to have the discussion. It's usually better to talk in a quiet, comfortable setting, maybe after dinner when everyone's relaxing or earlier in the day as people are getting ready for the big meal. Whether before or after, in the middle of a big dinner may not be the best place for these discussions.
  2. Set an Agenda ~ Ahead of time, it's probably helpful for you to have an agenda or list of key points that you'd like to cover when speaking to your family about your estate planning documents. You should also be prepared to answer questions or concerns that your family may have about what you tell them in the discussion.
  3. It's a Team Sport ~ Approach the discussion as a collective effort amongst your family. Presumably, you've designed your estate plan with your family in mind and you've got a reason for the various provisions in your estate plan. You should encourage collaboration and input from your family members, especially if you are considering leaving unequal inheritances or have other specific bequests/gifts for your legacy.
  4. Lay the Groundwork ~ In advance of the discussion, you can speak individually to members of your family and gauge how they are reacting to your estate plan ideas and plans for your legacy. These discussions can be more high-level and basic in nature and you can have the more in-depth discussions down the road.
  5. Review and Update Your Documents Together ~ As you sit around at the holidays, you may also be inspired to make changes to your estate plan, or at least spend some time reviewing the existing plan to ensure it's still an effective design for your legacy. It may also help you identify places where you'd like input or involvement from other members of your family.

Please remember that each family dynamic is different and talking with your family is not required. There are plenty of estate plans that never see the light of day with provisions that family members never need to know about (for example, trust provisions for your children while they are under 18 that expire without needing to be executed).

Do You Need an Estate Plan?

If you need an estate plan or maybe just need to update one you had prepared before, let's schedule a Legal Strategy Session online or by calling my Edina, Minnesota office at (612) 294-6982 or my New York City office at (646) 847-3560. My office will be happy to find a convenient time for us to have a phone call to review the best options and next steps for you to work with an estate planning attorney to get your plan prepared and implemented.

Andrew Ayers
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I work with business and estate planning clients to craft legal solutions to protect their legacies.
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