Truth is, even in very close families, discussions about estate planning are uncomfortable. It’s the dreaded conversation that many do not want to have – but need to have.

Oftentimes it’s difficult to know the right time to bring up the subject, or even what to say. Children of elderly parents are often concerned that they’ll offend their parents, while parents often worry that their children might not be able to handle the conversation or will get too emotional. 

As we know, death is inevitable. Passing without having an estate plan cannot only make the process of settling an estate stressful, costly, and challenging for your loved ones, but might also cause a disharmony between your families.

Below are a few tips to help families approach the topic and have that uncomfortable conversation.

For parents:

• Discussing death and incapacity is a frowned-upon dinner conversation for the majority, so don’t ruin the family meal. Enjoy the food, time and laughter.

• Once you’ve decided to have the conversation, give your family some forewarning about the discussion to come.

• Inform your children what your estate plan says and why. Explain your choices and the decisions you’ve made.

• Discuss what will happen if you become incapacitated. If you’ve executed a power of attorney your family should know.

• If you already have an estate plan in place, great! Discuss whether any changes may need to be made, e.g., has an event occurred that requires an update to your current plan etc.?

• Tell your family who your attorney or financial planner is.

• Make the conversation educational. For example, you can use the conversation to discuss financial concepts with your children who may be in the earlier or prime stages of their careers.

• Be transparent, open and inclusive during the discussion.

• Tell your family where your estate planning and other important documents are located. Its best to keep the items in a location that your family (spouse, child, personal representative, or trustee) is aware of and can access upon death or emergency. Remember, estate plans are worthless if they can’t be found!

For children:

• Casually bring up the topic. You can mention that you read an article or attended an estate planning workshop that discussed various challenges that can arise in situations where someone died intestate.

• Ask your parents if they have an estate plan in place or if they would like to meet with an estate planning attorney.

• Be clear about your reasons for bringing up the topic and express the concerns you may have.

• Don’t pressure your parents but stress the importance and benefits of this conversation to everyone affected.

• Ask “what if” questions that involve both lifetime and end of life planning.

• Ask where estate planning and other important documents are located.

• Be understanding and patient.

• Be willing to listen.

• Approach the subject with love, respect, genuine concern, and empathy. Remind your parents that they’re not alone in the process and you’re here to help them.

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. The conversation might be tough, but it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Jada L. Gaines is an associate attorney with Elder Law & Estate Planning Center in Bluffton. hiltonheadelderlaw.com