Talking to Your Family about Estate Planning

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There are compelling reasons to involve your family in your estate planning process. 

Your willingness to have the discussion with your children can turn a difficult subject into a meaningful conversation.

Trisha W. Hall ’98, an associate with the law firm of Connolly Gallagher in Wilmington, Delaware who advises clients on all aspects of estates and trusts highlights the positives in the process: “Opening up your planning process can be a wonderful opportunity to share your values with your children" she says.

Consider how and when you set up the conversation. What will work best for you and your family? Is it better to speak to each child individually or meet, if at all possible, with all children together? Sometimes it’s helpful to have a conversation about difficult subjects in a more informal and relaxed setting, perhaps taking a walk or over dinner together.

Decide the most comfortable way for you to introduce the subject. It can be as simple as mentioning that you are now focusing on your estate planning and why this is important. Begin with “this is what I/we are thinking…”

An approach recommended by family therapists and estate planners alike is for you, as the parent, to encourage the exchange of ideas and respectful communication. Ask for feedback, but be clear that you make the ultimate decisions and may make changes in the future. 

Most important of all, think clearly ahead of time – either individually or as a couple – about  what principles and values you want to pass along through your estate planning and use these as an anchor for the meeting. Highlight the charitable bequests you are making and why, and what you wish to accomplish through your bequests. Explain to your children how your principles have guided your decision about how your estate is being divided.

“This is especially important if the decisions you make may not match your children’s expectations,” says Trisha. 

“By having a discussion with your family now, you have the opportunity to eliminate surprises, avoid extra cost and head off potential complications for your loved ones later.”