Having the

As families gather together for the upcoming holidays and consider what to give each other, one invaluable gift is often overlooked.   It is a loving and open conversation about the future, in which family members discuss sensitive issues about how the family plans to face the aging, illness, and mortality of its members.

Families shun this crucial conversation for many reasons.   Some consider the subjects just too morbid, or they cling to the superstition that aging and death can be magically held at bay if only we avoid talking about them.   Lastly, many of us instinctively resist disclosing our “private” financial matters, even to our closest loved ones.

Admittedly, it does take courage to initiate these conversations.  But you might be surprised at how easy it goes once you start.   Most family members want the knowledge because they are genuinely concerned about your welfare, not their own, and simply want to be sure that you have some plan in place for long-term care or for passing on your legacy at death.

Having the conversation is important for several reasons:

  • If you keep your plans and finances too private, your family may be blindsided if you become unable to make financial or medical decisions for yourself, or if you suddenly face the prospect of paying for nursing home or other long-term care. Imagine, for example, the stress on a family member who, overnight, has to figure out your checkbook or investments.
  • Upon your death, your grieving family may be left with the additional burden of scrambling to find your planning documents, then navigating the sharp learning curve when they discover for the first time the role you expected them to play in administering your estate. Just because you want your eldest son to be your executor or trustee does not mean he wants to serve, or has the capacity to do the task.
  • Many estate plans fail because the family discovers your plan details only after you are gone. Not knowing your reasons for choosing the plan, they may become hostile to other family members who they think have been unfairly favored.   But while you are alive, you can explain the values that motivated your plan.   Your family might even suggest good reasons to adjust your plan that you did not consider.   Having the conversation now greatly decreases the risk of family disharmony and breakup down the road.

So here are a few tips for getting the conversation started:

  • Be realistic. Set aside the obvious fiction that aging, illness and death will not occur if you avoid discussing them.   We all know better.
  • Use anecdotes. To break the ice, you might mention a news story you read about someone, perhaps a celebrity, who created a mess for their family by not planning ahead for their incapacity or death.
  • Recast the conversation. In life, how we experience an event is greatly affected by whether we approach it positively or negatively.  Instead of talking about the obvious downsides of aging and death, focus on the positive benefits to every family member in discussing your plan.  It gives the family a feeling of control over the future.   You can talk about why your plan promotes your values, which are one of your most important legacies.   Why not tell your family why it is so important to you that you leave some money to that particular charity?
  • Emphasize the “win-win”. Continually remind yourselves of the mutual benefit of having this conversation, and of the bad consequences that can be avoided if every family member is part of the planning.

We cherish gifts not only for their intrinsic value, but for the good intentions behind the giving.  The conversation can be, in both of these ways, the perfect holiday gift.

Conveniently located in North Attleborough, we serve clients from Massachusetts and Rhode Island, especially the communities of North Attleborough, Taunton, Attleboro, Norton, Norton, Foxboro,  Wrentham, Rehoboth, Plainville, Franklin, Mansfield, Seekonk, Providence, Woonsocket, Cumberland, Pawtucket, and Lincoln.

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