Planning Your Legacy

Fill Loved Ones in on Your Plans

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A conversation with friends and family about what you want to happen if you become incapacitated or when you pass away is probably not a conversation you're excited about having. But talking to your loved ones about every aspect of your plans now will ensure that everyone is on the same page when the plans become necessary in the future. Having a conversation will also let them know how much these tasks mean to you and will make the process less stressful down the road.

When to talk about it

Think about your family, how they work together and their comfort level with this type of conversation. Ask yourself:

  • Do you need to all be together or will you talk with each person one-on-one?
  • If you want to talk with everyone at once, when is your next opportunity to do so?
  • Will that be over a holiday or other special gathering?
  • Will it help to prepare people in advance that you want to spend time going over these issues?

Even if your family seems hesitant discussing these things, chances are they have many of the same concerns you do. Families vary in their level of comfort with end-of-life issues, but most really do want to have the conversation and are simply waiting for someone else to start it.

Before you begin the conversation

Have your plans thought out and documents prepared with your estate planning professionals. You can also ask them about specific details you'll want to tell your loved ones and if they have any tips about approaching the conversation.

If you're nervous, try practicing the conversation with a friend first. It can help you think it through and prepare for any emotional speed bumps that might get in your way.

How to approach the conversation

Sometimes, it's hard to know how to start a dialogue. Here are some suggestions on what to say.

For parents who want to talk with adult children: "We would like to schedule a family meeting to talk with you about the plans we have made medically, legally and financially for when we die. It is important to us that you are all informed of our wishes. We think it will make things easier to handle if you know what plans we have made, where our papers are and who will be in charge of our estate."

For parents who want to talk with teenage or younger children: "I know it is not something any of us want to think about, but if something were to happen to Dad/Mom and I, we want you to know that you will be well taken care of. I would never want you to be afraid of where you would live, who would take care of you, etc...so I want you to know this information."

What to discuss

Here are the topics that you should make sure you cover.

Medical

Tell them about your documents such as living wills and health care directives. Let everyone know who will be making health care decisions and, if you think it will matter to your family, say why you chose that person.

While one person will carry out decisions, make sure everyone knows the decisions they will be carrying out are yours alone. Talk about what you want to happen if you would be unable to live unassisted. Talk about how you feel about nursing home care. If you have arrangements with a specific facility, let everyone about them.

Discuss hospice care and how you want to be cared for at the end of your life. Cover how you feel about pain management.

Funeral plans

If you have your wishes documented, let people know where the document is, who'll be carrying out your plan and why that person was chosen. It can be helpful for everyone to know what your decisions are about burial or cremation. If you have a burial plot or wishes for distributing ashes, let them know. Talk about what you would like your funeral to be like and let them know about any spiritual or religious traditions you would like honored.

Financial

Discuss where your important papers are kept. Let them know who the executor of your will is and who your attorney is. This could be a good time to find out if anyone has more sentimental attachment to certain items than others. It can be helpful for everyone to understand and voice their preferences publicly — before issues of grief and loss cloud judgment.

If all of this seems a little overwhelming, keep in mind that you don't have to discuss everything at once. It can be enough to simply start the conversation — and then keep it going over time.

Want to remove some of the stress from planning? Find out how legal insurance can help.

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