Talking about mortality is a topic that most people try to avoid. A difficult conversation becomes even more complicated when you’re talking about the mortality of your parents and how their estate should be handled. Yet, these conversations need to be had, regardless of the awkwardness and discomfort associated with them. The holidays can be an excellent time to have these conversations as most of the family is together. Here are some tips to keep in mind to tackle these tough topics and still enjoy the holidays.


Before you have these conversations, keep in mind the different dynamics at play. Parents may feel worried about their mortality, nervous about revealing personal details concerning their situation and threatened that their loved ones are trying to strip them of their autonomy. On the other hand, children or other inheritors can have a range of motivations. Some may want their share of the estate while other may just want answers. To keep the conversations on task and productive, stay focused on the main objective, which should just be getting information and helping your loved ones live out their best lives. I stress having these conversations when parents are still healthy. If you’re having the family meeting when your parent is unable to speak for themselves, make sure that the family is united in how they’re handling everything so nothing important gets lost between the cracks.


What should be discussed depends on the specific needs of the family. You can discuss advanced health care directives and wishes, estate structure, asset distribution and funeral services. For those who may have remarried, be sure to consider how that change may have impacted pre-existing estate plans. At the very least, you need to establish if there is a plan in place and where the important documents are located. As for who should be involved, that will depend on family dynamics and what will be discussed. Things can get a bit tricky when you’re dealing with blended families.


Sometimes what’s more important than what is said is how you say it. When it comes to these difficult conversations, I always coach people to “Be bright, be brief and be gone”. Come in with an agenda and stick to it. You may even want someone to take notes. More importantly, don’t be swayed by emotions or other past grievances. It may be less stressful to have a series of meeting than deal with the pressure of getting everything resolved in one meeting.


I understand these family conversations can be daunting, and I can’t guarantee that they will go smoothly. Once you make the attempt, though, you’ll have a good idea where everyone is in the process and if additional work is necessary. If your loved one has met with a competent estate attorney to create a plan, you don’t have to know all the details to feel comfortable that things have been handled. Additionally, trusted estate attorneys can provide their clients with unbiased advice on who to share important details with as well as mediate tough conversations amongst loved ones. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to see your loved ones’ wishes come to fruition. The unfortunate truth is if you don’t have these conversations now, you will have them later, just without your loved ones’ input.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine what is appropriate for you, consult a qualified professional.

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