Step 1: Initiate the Discussion

For many people, one of the biggest challenges in getting started in estate planning is beginning a discussion. Too often, family members are hesitant to discuss estate planning. In some cases it is older family members who delay because of unpleasant thoughts of growing older and dying. In other cases, it's younger family members who hesitate because they don't want to place additional stress on older family members. How can you initiate a discussion without causing misunderstandings?

One way to initiate a discussion is to share what you've learned from this web site or others about estate planning. Encourage other family members to read the materials too. There are many books, magazine articles, and other publications that address estate planning. These could serve as a conversation starter.

There isn't one "right" way to start the discussion. Sometimes using someone else's story can help you get started. The death of a neighbor, distant relative, or friend may give you a place to start. You could say, "Do you remember what happened to so and so and what his family went through? I don't want us to go through all of that."

Talking about your wishes can help you clarify what you want to happen. Others may ask you questions or tell you things that will help you explore what you want. The more clearly you communicate your wishes, the easier it will be for everyone to understand what you want.

Be sure to discuss plans you make with your loved ones. Discussing your plan with your heirs can relieve stress heirs may feel. Remember that keeping your estate plan a secret can lead to family conflict. Explaining your decisions to family members can reduce the potential for conflict and misunderstandings.

For additional tips on starting the conversation, look at:
Critical Conversations about Inheritance: Can We Talk? (Source: University of Minnesota Extension)

Conversations about estate planning are important and sometimes challenging. This publication has helpful suggestions for any age group:
Talking with Aging Parents about Finances (Montana State Unversity Extension, PDF: 328 KB).

For more information about how to communicate when there are sensitive issues relating to property transfer, visit the Who Will Get Grandpa's Farm? website.