Thanksgiving can be a great time to discuss estate planning matters with your family. According to the Investopedia article Thanksgiving: A Good Time to Talk Estate Planning, seventy percent of Americans say their family is what they’re most grateful for as they gather around the dinner table and stuff themselves.
Thanksgiving offers a unique opportunity where the family is taking time out to be together, and often (at some point) discussing significant matters affecting the present and future. Therefore, it makes sense to carve out (no pun intended) some time to discuss estate planning in addition to the great food, football, and Black Friday shopping.
It's important to get the timing right. For instance, asking Mom or Dad if they have a trust when passing them the mashed potatoes, or having Grandpa ask over pumpkin pie who wants to have his favorite coin collection when he kicks-the-bucket, is awkward and inappropriate. Instead, create space in a calm and semi-private environment sometime over the holiday with the important family members present. That typically includes parents, adult children, and possibly grandparents.
Either the parent or the adult children can start the conversation. Here are a few examples of how that conversation might go:
"Mom and I have been doing some research about estate planning. We are going to get started by meeting with an attorney, and want to discuss who we're going to put in charge of settling up our affairs."
"We are going to be preparing our wills to protect our children if something happens to us. We would like to discuss who we can name to care for and raise them if something were to happen. We also want to name some trustees to look after the life insurance and finances we would leave behind."
"We just set up our own living trust to avoid probate court when we pass away and to plan for a possible incapacity situation. Mom and Dad, from what we learned through that process, we feel it would be very enlightening for you to have an appointment with our estate planning attorney to learn more about a living trust and how it can help make things easier for our entire family when the time comes."
"Dad, I've been doing some research and found an estate planning attorney online that I think you might benefit from sitting down with. I know you care about avoiding taxes and keeping things smooth. I've learned that we can set things up pretty well if we plan while you are able to, and am concerned that we haven't done that yet even though the subject has come up over the years. I understand it's not a fun topic, but can we make an appointment for you so you just as a first step?"
Take note of a few key points from the above examples: With the first two, there are specific issues raised for discussion. With the second two, they are next-step focused. In other words, the point with the second two examples is not to come up with answers or deep dive into the topic. Rather, the point is to raise the issue tactfully, and then focus on a first step to solving the problem. Finally, notice that several of these examples are prefaced with a person having been "researching" the topic of estate planning or living trusts. That provides a soft, neutral, and educated basis for bringing up a difficult topic.
Of course, the tips here can be used at any family gathering (at the holidays or otherwise). The important thing is that these issues are discussed and, more importantly, that some action be taken. It's so easy to procrastinate on estate planning and get around to it later, but the stakes are too high to wait until it's too late to get something in place.