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Ways to Keep Emotions Out of Estate Planning

Kimberley Fowler
By Kimberley FowlerApril 21, 2016

Estate planning is an emotionally charged conversation and topic, but a critical discussion to have. Here are five tips from expert, Andy Smith, CFP, to help keep emotions out of estate planning while having these tough conversations with family.

Smith, Senior VP of Financial Planning at Financial Engines, and host of call-in radio program, Investing Sense, advises people to “talk early and talk often” about their estate plans. If your parents haven’t initiated this conversation with you, then it’s important that you bring it up. Speak to them so you understand their wishes, know the details and location of any policies, plans and accounts they hold and have an opportunity to meet and get to know their lawyer, financial planner and any other professionals who have helped them throughout their estate planning process.

Don’t Wait for a Moment of Crisis

Emotion will be part of the conversation no matter what you do, but if you let it get out of control it can quickly derail the conversation, especially in a time of crisis where emotions are charged.

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Situations like accidents, sudden illnesses or a terminal diagnosis are very emotional and tough to deal with. Imagine having to tack on a conversation about your parent’s estate planning and final wishes.

Instead, discuss your parents estate when they are healthy and when the family is already together, like during birthdays and holidays. Even if you’ve already discussed their estate, “it’s a good idea to check in a few times a year and update the conversations that you’ve had,” Smith suggests.

When you normalize the conversation you’ll find that this emotional topic is much more manageable.

Prepare for Emotion, But Don’t Let the Emotion Take Over

You know going into a discussion about estate planning could make for a difficult and emotional conversation.

Expecting to start the conversation and have a resolution all in one go is not very realistic. Instead, plan to have a few conversations at different times, until you get the details sorted out.

According to Smith, it usually takes families 4-7 conversations to get estate plans in place and everyone on the same page.

5 Ways to Keep Emotions Out of Estate Planning

Fewer wills are contested and ensuing legal battles are reduced when families approach estate planning with transparency. With this in mind, use these five tips to prepare for the multiple conversations ahead about estate planning:

1. The first conversation is the most emotional, and that’s okay. Don’t push too hard.

2. The second conversation is your opportunity to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding the importance of transparency with regards to estate planning. If you’re informed and prepared when the time comes to execute your parents wishes, then you’ll feel less stressed about details at a time when you should be focused on your loss. Your parents will benefit because they’ll have confidence knowing that everyone is on the same page and their wishes will be respected and executed as they have indicated.

3. The third and fourth conversations that you have will include the professionals your parents have worked with. You should ask to meet with your parents’ advisors and attorneys as a chance to build relationships and get to know each other before you need to use their services.

4. Once you’ve met your parents team of advisors, then you’ll find the details really start to come together. This might be the time where you put together phone lists of people your parents would like notified of funeral arrangements, and other small details that you’ll be thankful to have when the time comes.

5. It’s important to check in with your parents a few times a year to make sure that all the planning they’ve put in place is still relevant. This includes ensuring their advisors haven’t changed or moved and that some of the small details like phone lists are still relevant and current.

Chances are that the fifth conversation you have about your parents estate won’t be as emotional as the first.

The goal is to talk early and talk often, and when you do you’ll find emotions are less likely to derail these important conversations.

Have you found other ways to keep emotions out of estate planning with your parents or senior loved ones? Share them with us in the comments below.

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Kimberley Fowler
Kimberley Fowler
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