You’re getting ready to have a conversation on a really difficult topic. The dilemma of all
difficult conversations, explain authors Stone, Patton, and Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project, is that if we avoid the problem, our feelings fester and we’ve lost an opportunity to improve things. If we confront the problem, things may get worse.
Try a paradigm shift, the authors suggest. Don’t think of yourself as delivering a message, proving a point, or getting your way, or persuading others to do or be what you want. Switch to a “learning stance”, trying to understand what’s going on from the other person’s point of view.
At Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, we know all about “difficult topics” We agree with Deborah Jacobs, writing in the New York Times, who says that for many people, estate planning is “both a private matter and a morbid topic – not something that parents and their adult children want to discuss.” We certainly agree with Jacobs’ conclusion that “Families that speak freely about estate planning can sometimes address awkward situations that might arise, like the choice of the executor — who is in charge of distributing assets after someone dies — or succession plans for a family business or the leaving of assets in trust.”
“There are many ways to broach ‘the talk’ with your aging parents about estate planning and the sooner you start, the better for all concerned,” begins an article in Huffington Post. (In keeping with the Harvard Negotiation “paradigm shift” model, Huffington advises “Ensure your parents feel loved and in control of the situation. Don’t forget the discussion is about them and how they want you to fit it.”
“The talk you didn’t have with your parents could cost you,” cautions Tara Siegel Bernard in The New York Times. “There are many adult children who may eventually need to step in and handle their parents affairs for several months, or far longer, even during their lifetime.”
Having information readily at hand to assist parents makes everyone’s life easier. Find out about your parents’ wishes for their future care, the prescriptions they currently take, the doctors they see, get copies of their health insurance cards, determine what income they receive, and if possible, find out where they hold accounts.
Requesting this information can be a difficult subject to broach. Bernard suggests using “I” statements, such as “I’m concerned about doing the right thing when you pass,” rather than “you” statements such as “You are too disorganized and that will make things difficult for us children.”
At Geyer & Associates, where we practice Estate and Elder Law, we know that part of the difficulty in these conversations comes from all the technical aspects and legalities involved in estate planning. Our objective is to take the mystery out of the estate planning process so that individuals and families have peace of mind rather than confusion.
As estate planning lawyers, we aim to take some of the “heat” out of “hot potato” estate planning talks!