As the end-of-the-year holidays approach, many of us are planning to spend time with family, some of whom we may not have seen for months or years.
Holidays are a wonderful time to relish the past and enjoy the present, but they also are a good time to talk about the future. Although it can be an uncomfortable topic, telling family members about your final wishes is the best way to avoid family disagreements and hard feelings after you pass.
You may be thinking that a time of celebration is the wrong time to talk about anything morbid. But the holidays may be the only time that all family members are in the same room at the same time. If you let this chance pass, when will you tell them?
We also find that people are afraid to discuss their plans with their adult children because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or start a conflict — especially around the holidays. But the truth is that more feelings are hurt and more conflicts arise when these issues are not discussed. Better to get it out into the open and have the opportunity to explain your reasons while you’re alive than to leave your children wondering after you’re gone.
That said, there is reason to be concerned about how your children will react. Your children may view the way you disperse your will as an expression of love, power or control. Be prepared to explain why you chose to divide your assets the way you did and be open to questions or concerns.
Keep in mind that no matter what you do, you may not please everybody. You may think that dividing all assets equally is the fairest solution. But one child may think this is unfair if he or she has more needs and the others are well off.
In the end, it’s your decision, and communicating that decision now will give your children time to accept it without dealing with the burden of grief at the same time.
Talking about your estate plan also is a great way to role-model financial responsibility for your children. If they haven’t done so already, they may need some good advice on how to find an estate attorney and what questions they should ask when they do. Your example might give them the push they need to get their own houses in order.
In addition to addressing your wishes as outlined in your will and trust, you also should communicate with your children your instructions for your advance directive for health care. Some wishes, such as a “Do Not Resuscitate” order, will shock a child if his parent never discussed it with him. Telling your children beforehand will make it easier for them to make potentially difficult decisions if you become incapacitated.
Finally, let your family members know where your final documents are and keep them together in a safe place.
For more information about estate planning or advice on how to communicate your last wishes with your loved ones, contact a qualified estate-planning attorney.
Barid of Richmond Hill and Smith are co-founders of Savannah-based Smith Barid LLC.