You’ve done the hard work of meeting with your estate attorney to prepare and sign your power of attorney, advance directive for healthcare, and will, but have you had the uncomfortable conversation with your adult children to share the decisions you made in these documents? Having a family meeting when you are healthy and life is going smoothly is a great opportunity to share the “why” behind decisions, like why you named one child instead of another as the personal representative. It may make perfect sense to you to name the adult child who lives closest to you as personal representative, but does your youngest child understand your decision is based on location and logistics and not an indication that you have more confidence in your first born?
A misunderstanding may also occur if you leave assets in trust for the benefit of your children rather than leaving an inheritance to them outright. Your children may think you don’t believe they are responsible with money and that’s why you left the inheritance in trust instead of understanding that your decision was based on protecting them in the event of a future divorce or lawsuit. Of course, you may believe your children are NOT responsible with money…
You can then share with your family the additional benefits of using a trustee including making sure that the trust assets are invested appropriately and that there is an objective third party overseeing decisions regarding whether trust distributions are in line with the terms of the trust. When you have this family meeting, you may choose to share additional information about the amount that could be left as inheritance or your goal to make annual gifts of $14,000 to each of your children as your financial situation allows. You may also decide to leave dollar amounts out of this discussion because your goals are still changing.
The family meeting is also a good opportunity to share the life experiences that informed the decisions you made under the health care power of attorney. Perhaps you have memories of the Terry Schiavo case and have strong feelings about how you should be cared for if you are in a persistent vegetative state. Or maybe it is important that you are an organ donor. Your family won’t know unless you tell them. To expand on this conversation, you may want to use a tool called Five Wishes. Five Wishes helps spell out your personal and spiritual wishes so your family will know what good care means to you. It is a useful supplement to your Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney.
To make this meeting a little more comfortable, consider:
- Sharing a meal together before you start talking. It helps you settle into the conversation and also ensures that no one will be “hangry” – hungry and angry.
- Moving the conversation outside – to the patio or deck – if the weather allows. Studies have shown that being outside lowers stress and makes us happier.
- Sitting side-by-side rather than facing one another to make the conversation less intimidating.
- Being mindful that you will not cover everything at this first family meeting. Ideally, this meeting will be the start of a conversation with your adult children so you don’t have to get it all “right” the first time.
If you need some additional inspiration to have this family meeting, here’s a podcast about having a difficult conversation.
While it may be uncomfortable, a family meeting allows you to “set the record straight” and prevent your decisions from being misinterpreted after you are gone and unable to speak for yourself. Remember that your Bridgeworth advisor can be a trusted resource to help you get comfortable with being uncomfortable as you have this meeting with your family.
Bridgeworth, LLC is a registered investment adviser. Five Wishes is a private non-profit and not associated with Bridgeworth, LLC.