Thanksgiving - Food, Family and the Tough Conversation You Can't Avoid

Nov 20, 2013, 10:00 ET from ARAG

DES MOINES, Iowa, Nov. 20, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- While stuffing a turkey may seem unrelated to legacy planning, the long Thanksgiving weekend, with all your loved ones gathered, may be a good time to have an essential conversation about end of life issues. The holiday is a good time to notice how everyone acts when they're together – and realize how your decisions, and the discussion you have about those decisions, will affect them when you're gone.


"Conversations matter because they are the essence of relationship," says Nancy Schornack, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. "One of the greatest gifts I have from my father is that first, he taught me how to live.  Then, he taught me how to die.  In his willingness to engage in end of life conversations, he modeled for us that death is normal – not something to fear – and that coming to the end of life is a significant part of life's journey – one to be honored and shared with courage, humor, and tears."

While families vary in their comfort levels with these conversations, here are a few suggestions to help ensure you cover the legal and emotional issues and promote a meaningful conversation:

Getting ready
Make sure you have your will, powers of attorney and other estate planning documents updated and that your current intentions are reflected. Your opinion – and your family make-up – can change over the years and it's important to keep these documents current.

"Let them know your plan and who is in charge," says Judy Wirth of Schaefer, Wirth and Wirth. "Let your family know where important documents are, whether with an attorney or with someone else. If you don't, then, your wishes may not be carried out."

Consider compiling all information in one document, such as this Personal Information Organizer from ARAG®, a global provider of legal solutions.  This comprehensive worksheet, or others you can find online, ensures that all essential information, including account numbers, advisor contact information – even funeral preferences – can be located quickly and conveniently.

How to approach the conversation
Sometimes, it's hard to know how to start a dialogue. Here are some suggestions on what to say.

For adult children who want to approach the topic with aging parents:  "It's hard to think about life without you, and I know this might be uncomfortable to talk about, but would you mind if I asked some questions about your medical, legal, financial planning so that I can be informed should anything happen?"

For parents who want to talk with adult children:  "We would like to schedule a family meeting to talk with you about the plans we have made medically, legally and financially for when we die.  It is important to us that you are all informed of our wishes. We think it will make things easier to handle if you know what plans we have made, where our papers are and who will be in charge of our estate."

For parents who want to talk with a teen or younger child: "I don't know if you ever wonder what would happen if dad and/or I died, but I want to give you some information so that you can be assured that you will be taken care of should anything happen to us.  I would never want you to be afraid of where you would live, who would take care of you, etc., so I want you to know." (Give info, and then ask) "How do you feel about these decisions and do you have any questions?"

What to discuss:

Medical:  Do you have a living will?  What would your wishes be should something happen and you would be unable to live unassisted?  How do you feel about nursing home care?  Do you have one in mind you would like to go to?  How do you feel about hospice care?  How would you best want to be cared for at the end of your life?  How do you feel about pain management?

Funeral plans:  Would you like to be cremated?  Do you have wishes for your ashes?  Where would you want to be buried?  Do you own a plot?  What would you like your funeral to be like?  Are there spiritual/religious traditions you would like honored in your death?

Financial:  Where do you keep all your important papers?  Would you be comfortable writing a summary of all of your bank accounts, insurance policies, investments, etc. and placing it in a safe-keeping place/person of your choice?  Do you have a will?  Who is the executor? 

Possessions:  How do you want things handled?  What about other valued possessions – coin or gun collections, jewelry, dishes, scrapbooks, etc.  How would you like those things handled?  Have you specified that somewhere?  Can we talk about it?

Keep in mind that you don't have to discuss everything at once. It can be enough to simply start the conversation – and then keep it going over time. Schornack encourages others to put the time and effort into the dialogue. "It brought much comfort over the years since his death to know that we honored him in the process.  We knew what he wanted from how to manage the pain, to how to celebrate his life after his death, to what legacies were important to him, to making sure that my mother was well cared for."

While the conversation may be tough at first, it creates a stronger family connection while reinforcing for everyone what they are most grateful for. And ultimately, what more could you want from the holiday?

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