It is essential to make sure anyone who would be affected by your estate plan is on the same page, especially those who will have the responsibility of decision-making on your behalf. You need to ensure they are fully aware of your wishes so there are no surprises. Even though discussing your estate plan might bring anxiety, it is one of the most important and beneficial conversations you can have with your loved ones.
Anyone Involved in Your Estate Needs to Know Your Wishes
The goal in estate planning is to make sure that your wishes are carried out and not those of someone else. For example, if you are terminally ill, lapse into a coma, and have never informed anyone of your wishes, who will decide what to do? How will that person decide what to do? And what if there are several people with differing opinions of what should be done? Should you be kept alive using artificial means? If so, for how long? Your treating physician took an oath to preserve life for as long as possible. But, if death is inevitable, is that what you want? To prolong the death cycle artificially? If so, for how long? It is for this precise reason that your wishes should be clear, written down, known by those who will need to make the decisions in the case of emergency.
The Best Time to Talk to the Family is Now
It doesn’t matter if it is a holiday, a birthday, or a family vacation. The important thing is to have the conversation as soon as possible. Of course, having one large family meeting may be best; however, that may not be practical. And if waiting until the entire family is together means the talk never happens, then waiting is a waste of time.
My advice is to send a copy of your estate planning documents to each member of your family now. Once he or she receives it, call and discuss the details, explaining what each document does and the reason behind the language. Give specifics on the options you chose. For example, would you allow your family to donate all or part of your body for scientific research if appropriate? Do you prefer to be treated in your own home under hospice care or would you prefer to be in a hospital? If you are terminally ill, do you want to be kept alive artificially? If so, for how long? Everyone involved or affected by these types of decisions needs to know these details. If you prefer cremation to traditional burial, your spouse, children and next of kin need to be aware.
Have an Attorney Present
As an attorney, I encourage people to include their family and other loved ones in the planning process. If they are not able to be there for the actual signing of the documents, then they should attend a meeting facilitated by an attorney for an open discussion of your decisions. Many times my initial consultation takes place in the presence of the husband, the wife, and at least some of the children. Our goal is to give you peace of mind for your estate and help your family achieve a deeper understanding of your wishes.