The holiday season often means more traveling to see loved ones and quiet afternoons and evenings meeting up with those we care about. As nice as it is to catch up on the life events of members of your mom's book group, or to talk with your son about the latest acquisitions of your local sports team, it can also be a great opportunity to take some time and talk about estate planning and other important conversations. Whether you are a parent wanting to discuss your medical wishes with your child, or a newlywed wanting to make sure your grandparents have their estate organized, there are some key ways to ensure any conversation about estate planning goes smoothly.
Timing is everything:
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Don’t come in hot”? It applies when you are planning to have an important substantive conversation. If your dad is tired after a long night in front of the grill, or your son is running around trying to take care of a toddler, it’s probably not the best time to sit down and try to have a conversation about end-of-life wishes. Additionally, it won’t go well if you come in grilling your uncle about if he has a will completed. Instead, try to plan and set aside time to have the conversations. Pre-arrange a 30-minute block of time to talk about important matters.
The timing also applies to having conversations early and often during various stages of life. Don’t wait to talk about who you want to make medical decisions for you until you have been diagnosed with a terminal condition. Talk about it when everything is good, and there is no immediate need. This takes away a lot of the emotional turmoil that can come from these conversations and makes it easier to approach the matters if tragedy does hit down the road. If you have a family conversation about where important documents are stored or if you want to be in the family burial plot it will keep loved ones from guessing later. And these conversations are so much easier to have when times are good.
Model ways to organize:
Take advantage of essential tools like the Nokbox, then model your organization for others. If you not only buy your parent a Nokbox, but also show them your completed box you can make the task seem less overwhelming and complicated. This will allow you to discuss your wishes and important documents with them, and also create time to sit down and make sure you understand what your loved one wants and how their estate is organized. Tell your children the estate attorney you used to draft your will and durable power of attorney, and then also offer to schedule an appointment for them to do the same. Modeling the behavior can make the conversations seem less confrontational and more manageable.
Ensure loved ones feel heard:
Topics that involve mortality and death are certainly laden with emotion. No one wants to think about losing someone they love and care about. These emotions can sometimes cause people to shut down. One way to help keep that from happening is to make sure everyone feels heard and their opinions validated. Don’t turn important estate conversations into lectures. Rather, ask open-ended questions to those you love. Find out what important planning they have already done. Ask about what research they have already completed on local estate laws, and their medical plans and coverage. Ask if they have any interest in pre-planning things like utilizing a death doula, or end-of-life expert. Come from a place of compassion knowing these conversations can be overwhelming and hard, however an open and thoughtful conversation during good times can make complicated times so much easier to manage.
Essentially every family has a story about the closing out of an estate going poorly. By planning ahead, utilizing tools such as a Nokbox, and having thoughtful conversations where you express your wishes, a lot of heartache can be avoided down the road. The holidays are a great time to have those important conversations about both practical matters along with desires. By thoughtfully planning when and where to have the conversations it can bring an extra sense of peace during these celebratory family times.