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How to Talk to Your Parents About Making a Family Will

A few weeks ago I was talking to my dad about a friend of his who had recently passed away. The friend hadn’t left a will for his family, which included several children and step-children. As a result, the family was in a tense situation, sorting through possessions and unsure who had a right to what.

Of course, this sad story naturally led me to ask my dad if he had written a will. Suddenly, the conversation came to a screeching halt. The tension inundated the room, and he said he hadn’t gotten to it yet. Then, he quickly changed the subject.

It’s not an easy conversation to have. And in retrospect, I can see that I chose the very worst time to broach the subject. He was already upset about the death of his friend, and talking about his own death was just a bit too much that day.

According to the National Caregivers Library, more than half of American property owners die without a will. Dying without a will means that settling an estate will take longer, be more expensive, and likely cause more problems.

No one wants to talk about writing a will. My dad certainly didn’t the day I brought up the subject with him. But this is a conversation that all of us need to have with our parents at some point. If your parent passes away before they make their wishes known, tension and trouble can erupt between family members, right at a time when everyone needs to stick together for support. And no one wants that.

Additionally, what if they’re incapacitated? If they haven’t written a living will, no one will know if they want their life artificially prolonged (or not). And, no one will have the authority to enforce those wishes. This can be a tragic circumstance.

So how can you talk to your parents about writing a will?

1. Consult with Your Siblings First
It’s important that you and your siblings talk together before approaching your parents. Find out how they feel about starting this conversation. You all want to be in this together. If possible, hold a family meeting so you can all talk about creating a will at once.

2. Openly Discuss Your Motives
When you bring up writing a will, it’s vital you explain why you’re broaching the subject. Make it clear that you and your siblings are not bringing this up to define what you will gain. This has nothing to do with you. Your motivation should be focused on honoring your parents wishes, as well as maintaining harmony in the family during a difficult time. The only way you’re going to be able to do this is if your parents have defined their wishes in a legal will.

3. Do Your Homework
Before you sit down with your parents, do your homework. Find out how much it will cost to write a will, and brush up on the negative impacts of not having one. If you go into the situation with plenty of information at your fingertips, you can better convince them that writing a will is the smart thing to do.

4. Be Sensitive
The prospect of writing a will means your parents have to realistically consider their own death, as well as talk about their finances. These are two unpleasant topics! It’s important to be sensitive and empathetic when you have this conversation. If your parent seems really uncomfortable, then don’t push it. Instead, bring up the subject every few weeks, or every few months. Gradually opening the door to this conversation can slowly make them feel more comfortable and open to talking about it.

5. Plan Your Own Estate First
It doesn’t matter if you just turned 21 or 91. If you have money and possessions, especially if you own a home, then you need to write a will. Planning out your own estate is a great way to open the topic with your parents. Let them know you’re writing a will. Then ask if they want to write theirs at the same time. Or, ask if they can offer you some help writing your own. This is a less threatening way to get them used to the idea, and it can motivate them to write one. After all, if their kids have a will then they should have one too!

6. Write Their Will Yourself
If your parents are balking at consulting a lawyer, then help them prepare their own do-it-yourself will. Online sites such as LegalZoom have made the process inexpensive, easy and legal.

Final Word

Have any of you successfully talked to your own parents about their will? Of if you are a parent, what do you wish your kids would say or bring up during this delicate conversation to make it easier?

Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.

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