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Five Ways to Begin a Conversation about Wills and Trusts

Because discussing your end of life plans can be difficult, we’ve been thinking about five ways to begin a conversation about wills and trusts. Discussing the end of life plans of another family member can be even harder. It’s a loaded subject and not always a particularly happy one. But talking about your wishes—and the wishes of your loved ones—can help ensure that there are no misunderstandings down the road.

Five Ways to Have This Important Discussion

Having these discussions is also a way to achieve a bit of peace of mind. When you are uncertain about what will happen—or uncertain that your wishes will be followed—you can experience a great deal of anxiety. One way to eliminate that anxiety is to ensure that your wishes are well documented—both in a legal sense and in a familial sense.

That’s why we’re offering some tips on how you can begin conversations about wills and trusts, two common end-of-life documents that can help your wishes stand the test of time.

Tip #1: Avoid the “Big Discussion”

When you discuss anything important, there’s always the temptation to turn it into the “big discussion.” Many of us have had that kind of family meeting—the one where we know something important will be discussed. The one that we dread right up until the minute it’s over.

Unfortunately, these “big discussions” have a way of causing more dread than is productive. Instead, try turning your talk about wills and trusts into a series of smaller discussions. Instead of planning a big family dinner, bring up the topic of wills every once in a while at your weekly lunch.

The important thing here is to weave it into the normal topics of discussion. That way, when someone expresses some discomfort with talking about wills or trusts, you can easily move on to a different topic. Keeping the conversation low stakes is a great way to normalize the topic so that discussion of wills and trusts doesn’t have to turn into a big family meeting.

Tip #2: Listen to Anxieties and Fears

There are two sides to a discussion about wills or trusts. There’s the person writing the will and there’s the person who isn’t. These conversations usually happen in a family setting, between mothers and sons or fathers and daughters (and various other permutations).

That’s why it is vitally important to listen during this conversation. There will be anxieties and fears on both sides, and dismissing those feelings can shut down the overall conversation. Listening is a skill, much like any other, and requires both practice and skill.

If you’re having a conversation about wills or trusts, use these tips to keep your ears open:

  • Avoid phrases like “You have nothing to worry about,” or “don’t worry about it”
  • Use plenty of “I feel…” statements. They might sound silly, but they’re important to keep the conversation going.
  • Use phrases such as “Tell me more” in order to promote further discussion of the topic
  • Don’t dismiss anyone’s needs or wants
  • It’s okay if you don’t have anything further to say about something, and it’s okay to not know exactly what to say

Tip #3: Start the Conversation Sooner Rather than Later

Life is unpredictable. Things have a way of happening that are outside of your control. Which is to say this: tomorrow is never guaranteed. There are many issues that may crop up in life that make having conversations about wills and trusts more difficult as the years go on: Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other chronic illnesses can impede one’s ability to think straight or make complex judgments.

That’s why having a conversation about wills and trusts as soon as possible is the way to go. Or, put it another way: it’s possible that it will take some time for the “conversation” to really begin in earnest. You might have to bring up the topic several times before you get the details about a loved one’s desires.

The sooner you begin the conversation, the more time you have to let it breath, to ensure that everyone is heard, and to think about how exactly you or your loved ones would like to move forward.

Tip #4: You Don’t Have to Do it Alone

Wills and trusts seem like simple documents: they dictate how you would like to your belongings and assets to be passed along to your loved ones after your death. But that process can be complicated, and if the paperwork is not legally binding (due to mistakes or negligence), your wishes could be jeopardized.

That’s why it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced attorney who can help you ensure that wills and trusts are filled out properly. Because these documents can often be quite complex, you’ll likely have questions, such as the following:

  • How are wills and trusts different?
  • How important is a will?
  • What’s the difference between a will and a living will?
  • How much does having a will made cost?
  • Can I change a will after I sign it? Is it easy to amend a will?
  • Does a will work better for my wants or should I look into a trust?
  • Is a will or a trust more expensive to set up?

The answers to these questions will vary considerably based on your individual circumstances. But the point is that you might not be able to answer all of these questions on your own. Having an attorney to help in this matter could be incredibly beneficial in helping you navigate what is sometimes a complex process.

The Important Thing is to Start Talking

No matter what decisions you come to regarding wills, trusts, or end-of-life care, it’s important that those decisions be, essentially, talked through. You should let your family know your wishes, even if they’re well documented legally. By the same token, having a legally binding document can take a lot of pressure off your family members, as the document will make many of the decisions for them.

It’s a sensitive topic—that almost goes without saying. But overcoming that sensitivity to have frank, loving discussions is a vital way to ensure your wishes are ultimately followed. Following the tips above might, at least, make it a little bit easier! If you want more help with your wills or trusts, contact Mallie Law Office in either Little Falls or Brainerd, MN.

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