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Starting the Conversation about Estate Planning

I encourage families to have some uncomfortable conversations with those they love - grandparents, parents, and children.  

When we are older, we need to let our loved ones that will care for us know our wishes and that we have our own estate plan so it is easier for them to carry out our wishes when that day arrives.  

For those of us who are part of the sandwich generation, we need to have the conversation with our parents to make sure each has an estate plan in place and also have the conversation with our adult children to make sure they have documents in place as well.  

My husband and I even had a conversation with our teenagers at one point to get their input on who they would like to raise them in the unlikely event we were both gone in an auto accident. They seemed to appreciate getting to weigh in and be part of that decision. Of course, you have to know your children and only have this conversation if it is appropriate for your family.

Conversation Tips (to encourage estate planning):

  1. Make sure you have your own estate plan in place. Then you can share information by example. It's much better to say "Do as I do" than "Do as I say".
  2. You may want to show them your documents (organized) and ask if they are willing to show you theirs (so you can see if they have them and if they are current).
  3. I've had some parents and even children give the gift of estate planning to the relative they are concerned about as a birthday or Christmas gift. My parents did that for my sister when she was a young graduate, fresh out of college. They knew she didn't want to spend the money, but otherwise she had no objection to planning. They also knew that if something happened to her - death or incapacity - having those documents in place would help my parents help her more quickly and resolve her estate if necessary.
  4. It's normally best to have the conversation at home so they may have documents handy to share with you. It's also normally quieter there.
  5. If you're talking to your elderly parents, try to get all the children on the same page ... or at least all of the helpful, engaged children. And try not to judge siblings who are not gifted with the ability to have this conversation. Parents don't want to hear the conflict and that can make them decide to do nothing.
  6. You may want to point out that every person in the Great State of Texas does have an estate plan, though they may not know it. It is in the Estates Code. If you want to see how complicated that "do nothing” choice is, look at the Travis County Probate website and the information page that includes "When Decedent Dies Without a Will". Once a person realizes that the Estates Code contains their expensive, complicated plan, they usually want to craft their own plan.
  7. If the person is stressing about making a "forever" plan, reassure them that each of us can only work with the information we have currently and that no one has a crystal ball to know the future. It is best to make a plan based on the facts as we know them. We can always change that plan as long as we have the capacity to do so.