How to Talk to Parents About Estate Planning
Written by Preet Banerjee
Friday, September 21st, 2018
"In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." This quote has been attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who wrote the passage in a letter sent in 1789.
Perhaps it's a touch ironic that when I asked Dr. Ajmal Razmy, Service Medical Director of Trillium Health Partners' Acute Care Mental Health Program in Mississauga, Ontario, to name the topics that people are most hesitant to talk about, he had the following to say: "Even in the most desperate of times with the grandfather clock of time ticking away, people are reluctant to disclose details about money and death. In that order."
Why Are People Scared to Talk About Estate Planning?
Dr. Razmy suggests that whether or not there is true fear is debatable.
"For some of my patients, bringing up estate planning would be akin to planning a murder of a loved one," Razmy says. "'Why, are you in a rush for me to die?' is not an uncommon sentiment. So certainly cultural variables play a role. Estate planning represents the transition to life without someone and for certain cultures it is a faux pas to engage in such conversations. Furthermore, there needs to be a solid foundation of trust between family members to openly discuss division of estate."
How Can We Have Difficult Conversations with People?
"Difficult conversations are by definition difficult. One strategy is to prepare for them ahead of time," says Razmy. "We all die. That's a fact. The more families can normalize and reduce preconceptions about discussing life after the passing of a loved one, the better.
"This could mean early discussion by siblings with their parents about their mortality and how life will look once they have passed. There are multi-directional forces at play and these discussions will help parents and siblings alike. If tensions run high and family dynamics are tumultuous then having a professional in financial planning with the possible aid of a family therapist has been useful for some of my patients."
Communication is Key
Two keys for Dr. Razmy: trust and communication. Even when an estate plan is in place, if the intentions behind the plan aren't communicated in advance, it can lead to family strife.
For example, if there is a family cottage being passed down and the intention is to divide it equally between two siblings, and one sibling is an hour drive from the cottage and the other lives on a different continent, it could result in a wedge being driven into a family, even though the intention was to be fair and split something equally. Potential pitfalls like that can be discussed in advance before they become problems.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of estate planning horror stories. So instead of focusing on the awkwardness of bringing up the conversation about estate planning, you could focus on the downside of not doing so. The near-term awkwardness is better than the possible permanent regret.