“No man is an island.”
This quote is as true today as it was 400 years ago, most starkly perhaps, when facing your own mortality. While communicating with loved ones won’t make your words famous for centuries, conversations give families a chance to understand your wishes and share thoughts, feelings, and questions with you before it’s too late.
Tips for Effective Conversations
Know what end-of-life topics matter most to you and your family. Before you talk to your family, identify the goal or goals of your first conversation. There’s a lot to plan for and talk about, and everyone’s situation is different. So, it’s good to hone in on which areas of end-of-life planning are most pressing for you: what type of care do you want at the end of life, what are your wishes for your property, how do you want to be remembered, to name just a few.
After you establish your goals for the conversation, reach out to those you’d like to participate. It can be helpful to view the first conversation as an important family meeting, one at which you need all adult stakeholders present.
Have the meeting in a place where people can communicate openly without interruptions. This might be your home, or another destination such as a family resort where special arrangements can be made for children or others who might impede an open discussion. It can be hard to find a time and place that works for everyone, so consider putting something on the calendar as soon as possible.
Documents to be shared
You’ll want to consider hiring professionals to draft important documents such as: wills, trusts, or power of attorney, before your conversation, with the understanding that each can be amended as necessary.
FidSafe® Tip: Gather documents ahead of the meeting, and consider sharing them through FidSafe® prior to the meeting, so your loved ones can feel prepared for the conversation.
In addition to communicating your wishes during the conversation, prepare to tell your loved ones what they will need to carry out your wishes. Information such as: Where are your original documents? Who will make important health decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated? Who is the executor of your will? Who are your designated beneficiaries? Where do you want to be buried?
Some people create a legacy file to store all original documents and instructions in one place–be it a filing cabinet, safe, or lawyer’s office.
FidSafe Tip: Consider uploading copies of documents to FidSafe for peace of mind and ease of sharing. You can use the FidSafe Fundamentals Kit to track key information and designate a loved one to receive all the notes and files in your FidSafe after your death.
Use the conversation as an opportunity to bring your family closer together and build trust among those important to you. Ensure that your opening remarks cover the goals you are hoping to accomplish. Convey that you are initiating this discussion out of concern that proper plans are in place and understood by all.
During the conversation it is vitally important that your family knows that you are sharing your plans but also listening to their feedback. By asking reaffirming questions, you can ensure that you understand your family members correctly. Resolve what you can in the meeting and move on. If people don’t agree, write down the topic, and any notable objections or concerns, and then table it for when you may be able to resolve it more easily. Before adjourning the conversation, summarize key takeaways and agreements made.
Documenting the conversation
Consider designating an official family note taker to capture the decisions made or important follow-up items. Some people create a family conversation log where they record the date, topic, place of conversation, who partook, and any follow-up actions required.
FidSafe Tip: You can use the Note tool to log family conversation notes directly in FidSafe and share them with those in attendance.
To help build greater understanding among your family members, consider following these steps after a conversation with your family:
- Share a summary of what was discussed and any decisions made. Be sure to include important tasks that need to be completed and identify individuals responsible for each.
- Ask family members what they like most about your conversation and how you can improve family meetings in the future.
- Plan your next conversation.
- Update critical documents with the possible help of professionals such as your attorney or CPA.
When to review your plans
Life is full of changes, so most people find that it’s a good idea to revisit their documents and have a refresher conversation every few years, or when any of the “5 Ds” occur:
- Every new Decade of life
- After the Death of a loved one
- After a Divorce
- After any significant Diagnosis
- After any significant Decline in functioning
Look for articles on other aspects of end-of-life planning in the coming months.
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