Planning Your Legacy

How to Talk to Your Family About Wills

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Most families avoid big conversations, such as those about aging, changing health issues, or necessary legal documents like powers of attorney or wills, because they simply don’t know where to start. One way to get started is to ease into the conversation by reliving memories. Recollecting the past can be an easy way to start a conversation about how things have – or may soon change – within your family.

If you choose to have a more formal conversation, here are a few suggestions on what to say:

For adult children who want to approach the topic with aging parents

“It’s hard to think about life without you, and I know this might be uncomfortable to talk about, but would you mind if I asked some questions about your medical, legal and financial planning so that I can be informed should anything happen?”

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 a teen or younger child

“I don’t know if you ever wonder what would happen if dad and/or I died, but I want to give you some information so that you can be assured that you will be taken very well care of should anything happen to us. 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. (give info, and then ask) How do you feel about these decisions, and do you have any questions?”

What to discuss

Medical:

Do you have a living will?
What would your wishes be should something happen and you would be unable to live unassisted?
How do you feel about nursing home care?
Do you have one in mind you would like to go to?
How do you feel about hospice care?
How would you best want to be cared for at the end of your life?
How do you feel about pain management?

Funeral plans:

Would you like to be cremated?
Do you have wishes for your ashes?
Where would you want to be buried?
Do you own a plot?
What would you like your funeral to be like?
Are there spiritual/religious traditions you would like honored in your death?

Financial:

Where do you keep all your important papers?
Would you be comfortable writing a summary of all of your bank accounts, insurance policies, investments, etc. and placing it in a safe-keeping place/person of your choice?
Do you have a will?
Who is the executor?

Possessions:

How do you want things handled?
What about other valued possessions…coin or rare book collections, jewelry, dishes, scrapbooks, etc?
How would you like those things handled?
Have you specified that somewhere?
Can we talk about it?

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.

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