It is essential to have this conversation with your family so they know what to expect, understand why you made certain decisions, and have time to absorb and accept your decisions. Having this conversation before your death when things can be explained will help avoid the potential relationship damage that can happen if no one understands your decisions.
Choose the right person for the right job —
Try to take the emotion out of your decisions when selecting the people who will be best at certain tasks. Once people understand the various roles and what they entail, they tend to understand why a particular person was selected. The roles can range from being the executor of the estate, to the guardian of your children, to making medical decisions on your behalf. For example, you should select a very strong person to be your healthcare proxy, because this person may have to remove you from life support during a medical crisis.
Prepare the appropriate documents —
Once you have determined who will handle the key roles for your estate, you will want to get the proper paperwork drafted and notarized. These documents may include: your will, trust, durable power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, and guardianship designations. Before you have the conversation, you should have the proper paperwork with copies for all involved individuals, so there is no room for misinterpretation and everyone understands the parameters of your decisions.
Prepare for the conversation —
You’ll want to take the time to think through this conversation and anticipate the questions people will have. You will want them to understand what your goals are for the estate plan, what the various roles are and what they entail, and why certain people were chosen for certain roles. It is important to think through your family dynamic in approaching this conversation. Should it be a more formal conversation that includes an attorney or financial advisor to help explain the roles and your choices? Should it be more casual discussion around the dinner table with only family? Either way, you will want to make sure you set ground rules to avoid confrontation. You will want people to express their thoughts. But if it becomes argumentative, let them know the meeting will be canceled until it can be discussed rationally.
Keep the conversation going —
Let your family know this will be an ongoing discussion as circumstances change, such as new marriages, new children, divorce, etc. By having regular conversations, you can avoid the “Mom would have wanted this” argument. Setting this expectation can help prevent future family tension based on perceptions versus what you want carried out. Please call if you’d like to discuss this topic in more detail.