How to Encourage a Loved One to Engage in Estate Planning

Many people find the estate planning process overwhelming on a number of levels.  Well meaning family members and friends, recognizing the importance of addressing estate planning matters, often encourage loved ones to meet with an attorney to plan their estate.  Some people may avoid meeting with an attorney or even discussing the topic with their loved ones.  This can be frustrating for family members who realize that they will be left to pick up the pieces of an estate once their loved one passes.

I recently had two conversations with friends about this issue.  The first friend told me that her husband is loathe to discuss his parents’ very complicated estate.  She worries constantly that his parents, who are in poor health, will pass away and leave a mess over which her husband and his family will battle.  Another friend indicated that his 71-year-old parents have a very complicated estate but they have only a simple will.  He worries the will may not properly communicate the intended disposition of their property.  He fears that when they pass, he will be responsible for sifting through a mess at a time when he should be grieving.  He understands the fundamental that grieving people make poor decision-makers.  Both of my friends shared the same feeling — uncertainty over the future.

This uncertainty is a source of anxiety for my friends.  And with so much in this world that is outside of our control, why not take control and eliminate those worries?  This blog post is intended to help the reader encourage loved ones to engage in estate planning.

I have found that there are common personality traits amongst estate planning avoiders.  Read on to see if you know anyone who falls into the following categories:

  • Some people are naturally not the decision-makers of the household.  Their significant others take care of paying the bills, getting a mortgage, etc., and have done so for decades.  These people tend to become overwhelmed at the thought of planning their estate.  They struggle with understanding the basics of a home mortgage or insurance, and the thought of figuring out the details of these things in order to explain them to an attorney is daunting.  They feel overwhelmed at the very mention of a will or planning their estate.
  • Still others are conflict-avoidant.  Either their personalities are conflict-avoidant, or they have experienced a significant conflict with family members in the past and are determined not to engage in it again.  Families have unique dynamics and ways of communicating with one another.  Some families fly into rages at the beginning of an argument.  Some families stonewall one another at the first whiff of a confrontation, preferring to bury their heads in the sand.  And some families dance around an issue without ever truly addressing what needs to be discussed.  Any of these family types can be enough to make someone want to avoid conflict for fear of rocking the boat with their families, especially with parents nearing the end of their lives.
  • Other estate planning avoiders simply do not want to think about death or dying.  They accumulate wealth and live their lives happily until one day they realize they have three small children and some property and assets and no idea what would happen if they died suddenly.  They realize they have a need, but they simply don’t want to think about dealing with that need.
  • Other avoiders flat-out deny that a need exists.  They give estate planning little to no thought.  They refuse to deal with the thought that their assets and estates will need to be distributed upon their death.  They simply do not think about estate planning at all.  They reason that it is of no concern to them because they will be gone when the issue arises.
  • Other estate planning avoiders believe they do not have the funds to pay an estate planning attorney.  This feeling is typically a symptom of one of the above-listed motivations.  These people typically have sufficient funds for plane tickets to fun locations, new clothes for work, or maintenance on their vehicles.  An attorney can be hired to plan their estate for less money than it costs for a plane ticket, clothes, or vehicle maintenance.

If you are connected to or love someone who engages in this type of thinking, this can leave you feeling anxious, helpless, and hopeless.  You may feel totally out of control of your future.  You may worry that when the time comes, you will have no idea what to do.  These feelings may not be present on a day-to-day basis, but they periodically come to the forefront of your mind.  They are always in the back of your mind, a constant source of unease, low-level anxiety, or even dread.  If you are connected to or love someone who engages in this type of thinking, read on for ways of encouraging them to engage in estate planning.

  1. If you know someone who is not a decision-maker and who refuses to deal with estate planning because they feel overwhelmed, visit my Blog post on Estate Planning Basics.  The post walks people through what they need to know in order to plan their estate in a very basic and easily understood way.  Approach this person in a gentle manner.  Do not give them too much information.  Do not come on too strong, or else they may feel threatened and shut down.  Here is a sample script for you to use:
  • “I have been feeling worried thinking about your estate and how it will be dealt with when you are gone.  I recently read a blog outlining what needs to be done in order to plan an estate.  It is actually a lot easier than I thought it would be.  This blog takes you through, step by step, what you need to do in order to plan your estate and give you more control over what happens to all of us when you’re no longer around.  It’s a way of taking care of your family after you’re gone.”

2. If you know someone who is conflict-avoidant, visit my Blog post on Dealing with Family Conflict.  The post helps people feel more confident in dealing with family conflict.  It helps people feel more in control of a conversation and keeps them calm.  When dealing with a conflict-avoidant type of person, focus on your feelings and do not attack them.  Here is a sample script for you to use:

  • “Can I talk to you about something that has really been bothering me?  Something that has made me feel nervous and even a little scared?  I was hoping you would read this Blog post about ways of dealing with family conflict when planning an estate.  It gives scripts for us to use when talking to your family about the estate.  It will help us have a productive conversation with your family about these issues.  I really feel hopeful reading the Blog post because I think some of these scripts might work with your family.  Then this issue will be solved and we won’t have to worry about it anymore.”

3. If you know someone who is afraid to discuss death or dying, visit my Blog post on Happy Estate Planning.  The post helps you approach people who fear that estate planning is too morbid.  Humor often helps in these situations, as well as a lighthearted approach.  If you feel confident and happy when you discuss these issues, these feelings may rub off on your loved ones, making a discussion of estate planning easier.  Here is a sample script for you to use in addressing this type of person:

  • “I was hoping we could take control over our futures by planning your estate.  Let’s meet with an attorney who will help us with these matters and then go out and meet our friends for dinner / watch our favorite funny movie / take a walk around the lake / go for a bike ride / come home and drink our favorite beer [or any other activity that would be fun and uplifting].”

4. For someone who flat-out denies that a need exists, visit my Blog on The Importance of Estate Planning.  This post drives home the reality of the need for estate planning.  Sure, it’s a bit of a scare tactic.  But it is designed for the person who refuses to deal with the realities of the situation.  It may be best to be upfront and direct with this type of personality.  Here is a sample script for broaching the topic:

  • “I recently read an interesting Blog post on estate planning.  I felt nervous reading it because I realize that we haven’t done anything about your estate and we really need to take some action.  There are some simple things we can do to give us all peace of mind so that we never have to think about these issues again.’

And finally, for the person who believes they do not have the money for an estate planning attorney, send them my way at Excelsior Law Firm, L.L.C.  I will be happy to work with them to find a reasonable and competitive price that they feel happy to pay for their estate planning needs.  Thanks for reading!  I hope this Blog has helped.  Don’t give up the ship!

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