Gresham, a clinical psychologist, advocates laying the groundwork for the estate-planning talk with a few separately held, lead-up discussions on family values and history. After all, she said, “You want to build a sense of bonding and family before you introduce material that could be emotionally loaded.”
When is the right time to discuss your estate plans with your loved ones? The old saying goes, don’t discuss religion or politics. In my family, if we didn’t talk about those, it would be a duller dinner table. And yes, sometimes you notice people quietly slipping away from the table as they see a discussion escalating. But death and dying is even harder. And it becomes virtually impossible if you put off those discussions until a loved one is sick, because then it is often taboo, taken by one or more family members as a sign that you don’t believe that the ill family member will get better, a sign of lack of support.
I think most people would agree that talking to family about death and dying is a delicate matter. People do not even want to discuss anything related to their own deaths, including discussing the contents of their estate plans. Unfortunately, as reported by Market Watch,in an article titled "Estate: Planning: It's never too early to start," not communicating your estate plan often leads to problems later on.
The biggest problem is that when families do not know what to do, they often fight. If your family does not know what you want them to do, each family member may have his or her own ideas about what you would want. When you combine money with a vacuum in the relationship structure, the leadership structure, family members step up with their own views, and sometimes with the memory of what you thought were long forgotten jealousies, rivalries, and simply different goals.
So many families talk about treating their children “equally” when what they really mean is “fairly.” Different children have different needs. These may come in the form of time, money, or just extra patience. But it is the unusual child that doesn’t notice the difference. They may never say anything to you, and you may assume they understand the differences, but the time to talk about those, and how you approach these differences, is an important discussion that is critical to avoiding later fights.
Sometimes, these fights end up in court.
There is another benefit to discussing estate planning with your family. It often leads to better problem solving in other areas, such as elder care.
As the original article says, experts suggest that you should begin talking to your children about your estate plan when the children are in their 20s. They are old enough to know at that point. If your children are already older, however, talk to them as soon as you can.
You can never talk to your family about your estate plan too soon. However, if you wait too long, it will be too late.
If you would like to chat with us at the Graham Law Firm, you will always find our information on our website www.thegrahamlawfirm.com.
Reference: Market Watch (October 23, 2014) "Estate Planning: It's never too early to start"