Estate Planning: Starting the Conversation

Estate Planning: Starting the Conversation

The holidays are a wonderful time and for some families, it may be the only time everyone is together.

Having multiple generations together can make the holidays an ideal time to have some estate planning discussions.

Estate Planning template

Estate Planning Photo source: Julianne Shoup

Too often, family members are hesitant to talk about estate planning and they never form a plan.  There’s no one way to start this conversation, but one way to bring it up is to refer to materials you have read recently or another family you may know who is going through the estate planning process.


Bringing Up Estate Planning

You could say, “Do you know so and so, their parents passed away recently and they have had so many problems because they didn’t have a plan in place.  I think we should sit down and talk about some of those things so that doesn’t happen to our family.”  Or, “I was reading an article about estate planning the other day and how important it is to talk about it with your family and create a plan. I think I’d like to sit down and talk with you all while you’re here for the holidays.”


Tips for Smooth Conversations

If you choose to start these conversations, remember estate planning can be a sensitive topic for all generations involved.  Below are some tips on communicating and dealing with conflict from the University of Minnesota Extension.

  • Remember to be a good listener, listening for meanings and feelings behind words.

  • Respect the views of others. Even if you can’t agree, you can still show sensitivity and respect for each other’s feelings.

  • Try to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements to convey feelings. It’s important to express feelings, but try to do so in a way that does not place blame.

  • If conflict arises, try to discuss and clarify the problem and make a commitment to work toward a solution.

  • Remember to focus on why you are having conversations about estate planning. Having a plan helps prevent conflict down the road, helps create a smoother transition to the next generation, and will help give you peace of mind.

Passing On Personal Belongings

One aspect of estate planning that can be overlooked is passing on family heirlooms.  Grandparents can often be surprised by what has meaning for their children or grandchildren if they have never talked about it. The holidays can be a great time to have discussions with family members about what items are special to them, if there are family stories behind items, and how certain items can be distributed either before or after the death of a family member.

Many times grandparents may choose to pass items on while they can still enjoy giving those items to the next generation.  Another method is to create a list of items and use a personal property memorandum attached to your will.  There are many ways to deal with personal property and each way has advantages and disadvantages, but establishing what your goals are and getting the process started are key.

For more information….

For more information on transferring heirlooms, the University of Minnesota has resources online and a workbook available to order to help you through the process:

Or you can watch this K-State Research and Extension Ed Talk.

Beyond Valentine’s Day:  Healthy Communication

Beyond Valentine’s Day: Healthy Communication

We hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine’s Day last month and you had the opportunity to show a loved one that you care. But what about after Valentine’s Day?

Healthy communication is one way you can show loved ones, like your significant other, that you respect and value them on a daily basis.

According to the National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage and Families, healthy communication builds trust and friendship within your relationship. Healthy and effective communication also helps set realistic expectations.  Unrealistic, unexpressed, and unfulfilled expectations are often the greatest source of unhappiness in a relationship.

So what makes communication healthy?

Dr. Victor Harris, UF Family and Youth Development Specialist, and Dr. Charlotte Olsen, Kansas State University Family Systems Specialist, have a few tips for healthy communication.

  • Be clear, concise, and straight forward. If others can’t depend on you to tell them the truth, it damages trust in the relationship.  If you think you will have trouble talking about a difficult topic with your partner, consider trying to write it down first to help figure out the best way to say things.
  • Just the right amount of information. Think about the age and emotional state of the person you’re sharing with and share what they can process without being overwhelmed.
  • Timing is everything. Be sensitive about when or when not to have certain conversations.  If someone is sad, angry, tired, or stressed, that might not be the best time to talk about a sensitive subject.  Set a time and place to discuss and opt for a “soft start,” using “I” rather than “You” messages that suggest blame.
  • Listen silently. Listen silently without interrupting, but show through eye contact, head nodding, and facial expressions that you are listening. Allow the other person to finish what he or she is saying without jumping in — or jumping to a conclusion.
  • Listen to find common ground. Try to look for points of agreement, rather than disagreement. 
  • Focus on positive interaction. It typically takes five positives to overcome one negative.
  • Listen reflectively. Try paraphrasing what you have heard. This not only lets your partner know you’re listening, but it can help clarify misunderstandings.  Consider your response before speaking, rather than blurting out the first thing that comes to mind.
  • Be aware of non-verbals. Non-verbals can carry more weight than words. Looking away when a spouse or partner is talking to you or walking out of a room in the middle of a conversation are examples.
  • Be willing to compromise. If personal spending from a joint account is becoming an issue, develop a budget in which each spouse or partner has a personal allowance that is his or her money to save or spend as he or she wishes.
  • Be respectful — and appreciative. If both parties are tired, say “thank you” to the one who volunteers to go to the grocery store, fix a meal, or make life easier to ease the stress.
  • Make “No Needling” the rule — not doing anything intentionally to irritate the other person. Be aware that sarcasm and putdowns can erode a relationship. Humor can break the ice, but it’s best to make fun of yourself, rather than another.
  • Be spontaneous, particularly in making everyday opportunities enjoyable — and fun.

For more information on healthy relationships whether you’re dating, married, engaged, or even divorced, check out