How to Have a Conversation With Your Family About Your Wishes for After You Pass
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For most of us, planning for life after death is not the standard topic for Sunday night dinner. Aside from the emotional weight of these conversations, finding the appropriate time and place to gather and discuss matters of funeral planning and inheritance can be a logistical concern for many families.
However, delaying these discussions can result in complications down the line. Without proper instructions or understanding regarding your wishes, your loved ones may be left wholly in the dark on how to proceed after your passing.
Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, discussing your death with your loved ones may be an uncomfortable experience for everyone involved. For those of you unsure of how to initiate this discussion, we recommend the following strategies which can help you ease into the conversation gently and with care.
Plan a Preliminary Conversation With One Person
Before gathering and speaking with your loved ones and beginning a conversation regarding your passing, consider first broaching the topic with one person. When considering the distribution of your estate and any funeral or memorial arrangements, this person may be your spouse or life partner, trustee, the person who would be your Personal Representative, or simply the individual who is already inherently familiar with your wishes for after you pass.
A second perspective may help you plan the conversation with others, identify what topics (if any) to avoid, and practice delivering the information to your family and loved ones most thoughtfully and effectively.
Be Upfront With Your Loved Ones on What You Want and What They Can Expect
When speaking with your loved ones about your final wishes, you want to be clear and straightforward regarding the next steps. Leave no room for doubt on how you would like your loved ones to move forward because, at a certain point, you will no longer be able to advocate for yourself.
Consider making a list of exactly what you need to communicate to your loved ones before the conversation. You can even provide copies of your wishes in writing to those gathered as well as keeping a copy of these wishes with your other important documents.
If the financial situation of your beneficiaries will be greatly altered by your passing, consider establishing contact between them, your financial advisor, and your estate planning attorney. If you feel comfortable doing so, consider sharing the current value of any inheritance, as well as the best practices for caring for the assets you plan on passing along.
For many, communicating the specifics of any inheritance may be best approached as a private conversation with everyone to avoid potential conflicts between beneficiaries.
Be Open to What Your Loved Ones Have to Contribute
Remember that planning for your death may be an ongoing process, it does not need to be completely settled after a single conversation with your loved ones. Rather than treating any conversation as a lecture or presentation, consider asking for input from your loved ones about your final wishes.
Discussing matters of your passing will likely be a very personal and emotional experience for you but try to consider your loved ones as well – they will ultimately be living with your wishes. Remember to keep an open mind, open heart, and prepare yourself for a range of reactions and emotions when discussing your passing with loved ones.
If your loved ones find your stated desires or plans objectionable or untenable, be willing to listen to their reasons. When all is said and done, you are the only one with the sole authority to make the final decisions regarding your plans, but they may be responsible for carrying out your wishes. And if you reach an impasse, consider carefully who you want to name as the individual responsible for ensuring your wishes are met and reach out to your estate planning attorney.
Discuss Your Options with an Estate Attorney
You may already have a solid idea regarding your final wishes, but there are often other options that may be worth considering. Before formalizing any of your final wishes, plan to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney who can help walk you through other strategies.
For example, a prepaid funeral allows you to pay for your funeral ahead of time and plan for even the smallest of details – from your burial arrangements to your choice of casket and funeral home. A prepaid funeral may help relieve your loved ones of the burden and responsibility of making these choices when the time comes.
Whether you are interested in planning out everything years in advance, or you are more flexible regarding how you will be memorialized, sitting down to discuss the future with the people in your life will always be the most important step of the journey.
At Sessa & Dorsey, we consider the bigger picture at hand and advise our clients on the best estates and trusts for their specific needs and desires. If you have questions, please contact us at (443) 589-5600.
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