It’s Thanksgiving, or maybe Christmas dinner. You’re sitting around the dining room table, surrounded by your children (and maybe some grandchildren). Your kids have grown up and started their own lives – they’ve gone through puberty and college, have started careers and marriages and families of their own. Whether they’re coming back home for the holidays or you’re going to them, you sit at the head of the table, the matriarch or patriarch of the family.
To a lot of people, this seems like the last time you want to talk about legacy planning, or as other people plainly describe it, "what’s going to happen when I die."
But the holidays can be a perfect time to talk to your adult children about your legacy plans for three major reasons.
1. Help your kids understand your plan before you die
If you’re already thinking about legacy planning, you’ve probably come to terms with the idea that you’re going to die someday. But your kids probably don’t want to talk about that. They say things like, "You’ll live forever!" or "Not now."
It’s up to you to be the parent again and take control of this conversation. That means getting them to sit down and pay attention to what you have to say. Depending on the kid, this may be either super difficult or ridiculously easy. (It can also be hard if they don’t want to acknowledge that you’re going to die – this article from Psychology Today may be able to help with that.)
Your kids need to be able to accept that you're re-asserting your role as their parent – something that, depending on how old they are, they haven’t had to deal with in a while. Remember that you have to be in control of this conversation, and that your kids need to engage with you as both your child and an adult.
2. When possible, you should have major discussions about your legacy plan in person (and keep a record of it)
Legacy planning can be complicated and emotional for a lot of reasons: children thinking about the eventual death of their parent, lifelong insecurities about siblings or accusations of favoritism. If you try to discuss legacy planning over the phone, or, God forbid, over email, there’s a good chance they won’t really digest what you’re saying.
Being able to sit down with your children and explain your legacy plan, using documents when necessary, is crucial. You need to be able to guarantee that your children are focusing on what you’re telling them, and that they understand what you’re telling them. Plus, it’s super helpful to have all of your children in the same room. That way, no one feels left out of the conversation.
For many people, Thanksgiving or Christmas are the only major holidays that they travel back home to their parents, or that you spend time with all of your family members in one place. This makes it a perfect opportunity to sit down with them and discuss your legacy plan.
Whether you anticipate there being turbulence in the conversation or not, it’s a good idea to tape record your conversation. Even if everyone gets along on the surface, dealing with a parent’s estate can bring out the worst in all kinds of people. If your children all agree on your legacy plan, the tape recording can help ensure that they stick to it after you’re gone.
3. This conversation doesn’t have to be depressing, and the holidays can help remind your children of that
The holidays are inherently happy, and talking about death is inherently sad, and that means you shouldn’t talk about death at the holidays, right?
But here’s the thing – you’re not really talking about death. What you’re talking about is your legacy. How are people going to remember you? How will your money and assets be used to better the world and your descendants’ lives?
One of the major components of any holiday is tradition, and traditions are a big part of your legacy. When you start to frame the conversation like this, it stops being depressing and starts to be about something bigger: family.
Death is a natural part of life, but family will live on past you, your partner, and your kids and grandkids. The choices you make as a part of your legacy plan could have ripple effects down generations, felt one hundred years in the future.
Image: Loren Kerns