Because “the talk” involves not one but two things we’re often uncomfortable discussing – money and death – many of us put it off or never have it at all, and that’s a mistake. Making your expectations clear can help your heirs to avert a good deal of discord, or even litigation, after you’re gone.
So step one is to get a valid will in place to avoid having your heirs, or even the state, make decisions on your behalf. Even with that done, however, it’s important to make it clear to your family that the directions in the will and other documents are what you intend.
If your family is not together often, the holidays may be just the right time for this.
It doesn’t need to put a damper on your celebration. But if you expect there to be contention or disagreement over your decisions, you may want to consider meeting at a site such as an attorney’s office. Having a neutral third party on hand can help to defuse some of the emotion that often accompanies such a meeting.
First, you will want to explain who you have chosen to fill important roles such as managing your health care directive, power of attorney, guardian of any minor children and executor of your estate. Explain your reasoning as well. You may have made these decisions based on geographical proximity, or on your perception that an adult child may be too busy with their own family or business to properly handle your affairs. Anticipate objections and have answers ready, written down ahead of time if you fear the stress of the occasion will make it difficult for you.
Logical, dispassionate responses will help to minimize hurt feelings and emotions.
Be prepared with copies for all of not only your will, but an advanced healthcare directive so everyone understands your wishes should you become incapacitated.
This way your family will know that you are not only expressing your wishes verbally, but have taken the time and effort to establish them in a legal sense.
Finally, make it clear to all concerned that although you have outlined your wishes at this point in time, you reserve the right to make future adjustments as circumstances dictate.
Unforeseen events such as a child moving out of town or a substantial change in your assets may cause you to reconsider these important decisions. Promise to keep them informed of any such changes, and be certain to follow through on that promise if changes are made.
Most important is not avoiding the talk in the first place. As unpleasant as the idea may seem, a small amount of time and effort in having an open and frank discussion can save a lot of heartache in the future.
Mr. Abraham is an experienced attorney and founding member of the Law Firm of Abraham & Bauer. The Towson, MD office of the firm concentrates its practice in Elder Law, Estate Planning, Probate, Medical Assistance (Medicaid), Guardianship, Asset Preservation and Fiduciary Representation.
He is an active member in a number of professional organizations that focus on law, the senior community, and estate planning. He works with clients in Central Maryland, especially in Towson, Hunt Valley, Lutherville/Timonium, Parkville, White Marsh, Bel Air & Northern Baltimore City.
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