Talk to your Family about Writing a Will

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A stressful experience can takes its toll on any family, particularly when factors like money and death come into play. You've seen it on the news: heirs battling it out in court over an estate.

But it's not just the families of the rich and famous who deal with estate issues. Every family has to face them in one way or another. And if you fail to make preparations, you may increase the chances that there will be hard feelings and disagreements at a time when your family needs to come together most.

The good news is there are steps you can take to prevent this, and it starts with a conversation.

Who should talk about estate planning?

Mortality isn't a pleasant topic, and many people are also reluctant to discuss their finances. So it's no wonder many families put off the conversation about estate planning indefinitely, often until it's too late. Others believe that estate planning is only for the elderly. They think they'll just wait until retirement to address it. But that's not a good strategy either.

Everyone who has property and loved ones should think about estate planning sooner rather than later. It's also a good idea for families to discuss it openly so that everyone understands each other's wishes. This approach ensures that there will be no surprises later, and it allows everyone affected to plan accordingly.

What's the best way to approach the estate planning conversation?

Estate planning might not be a good topic to bring up during your actual Thanksgiving meal. But holidays are often the few times during the year that families come together. You might consider setting aside a specific time to come together as a family to discuss the topic. Remember, writing a will or trust can be broached tactfully and purposefully.

Since it's a sensitive subject, it's important to be forthright about your motives in bringing it up. Once you start the discussion, concentrate on how estate planning can help you carry out the wishes of others (your parents, for example) or how it can help you take care of your children or other loved ones.

The idea is to make it clear that the conversation will not be about what you will gain; instead, it's about setting expectations that can help maintain family harmony and honor each other's wishes. One way to make this clear is to talk about your own estate planning. Again, before you have this discussion, it is probably a good idea to write your own estate plan, particularly if you are planning on suggesting it to your family. Focus on how you wrote your own will or living trust and how it will affect your family. For example, if you have a living will and/or power of attorney, you can tell your family how these documents helped you make sure you're prepared.

What will happen if you don't discuss it?

Discussing estate planning now means less stress at a difficult time later. That's reason enough to talk it over with your family. But an even more compelling reason might be to make sure assets are distributed as desired. A good estate plan is the only way to ensure that happens. So think about setting aside some time to discuss estate planning with your family. It's in everyone's best interest, and it can be a positive step toward keeping your family whole in the future.