Discussing inheritance plans with your loved ones can be a delicate conversation laden with emotion.

Perhaps you’re curious about the impact an inheritance might have on your own financial future, or concerned about complexities you’ll encounter later if your loved one hasn’t taken time to document and formalize their plans.

If you have been quietly avoiding a conversation about inheritance, you are not alone. But with sensitivity and honesty, you can open doors for planning, relieve stress, and connect with your parents in meaningful and practical ways.

The Benefits of Being Prepared

Consider James, a 55-year-old corporate lawyer.

James had always maintained a strong bond with his parents, but the topic of inheritance was something they had never discussed openly.

Like many, James was concerned bringing up the subject might give the impression he was more interested in his potential inheritance than in his parents’ welfare.

However, as his parents entered their 80s, James became increasingly aware of the complexities surrounding estate planning and the consequences of being unprepared. While he had never been counting on an inheritance, he was beginning to take his own financial planning seriously and wanted a better understanding of his long-term financial outlook.

A Mutually Beneficial Conversation

James decided to broach the subject of inheritance one evening at his parents’ home while helping them organize some personal paperwork.

The opportunity presented itself when going through some billing statements from his mother’s physician. “Mom, we’re so lucky you and Dad are still in pretty good health. Would now be a good time to talk about your plans and wishes for your affairs in the future?”

To James’s surprise, his parents were more open to the conversation than he had anticipated. They expressed relief that he had brought up the subject because they had been unsure how to address the topic themselves. They shared their primary goal regarding inheritance, which was to ensure a smooth transition of their assets without creating tension among family members.

James’s parents began to divulge what they anticipated their estate to be worth. This openness led them to share that their current estate plan was outdated, a fact that could have led to potential family disputes and legal issues. James was able to facilitate a meeting with their attorney to discuss their estate and other important matters, such as advance directives and end of life planning.

This experience reinforced James’s relationship with his parents and gave him the insight he needed to be confident in crafting his own financial plan.

Key Lessons

James’s experience highlights a few takeaways for families wanting to broach the topic of inheritance.

Timing and setting matter. James’s choice of a non-confrontational setting and an indirect approach facilitated a productive discussion.

Start the conversation with a question. James’s question thoughtfully introduced the fact that his parents’ health is good now, which makes it a great time to start making plans without the urgency of a health crisis. Here are a few other approaches:

As you get older, what’s important for me to know about your wishes when you are no longer here with us?

You’ve always worked to make my life easy, and I want to do the same for you. Would it be helpful to discuss any details about your end-of-life plans? Have you formalized your wishes with a will or estate plan?

It’s about respect and legacy. More than just a financial transaction, conversations about inheritance are about respectfully understanding and honoring your parents’ legacies.

Honoring a Legacy

Discussing inheritance with aging parents doesn’t need to be uncomfortable. Ultimately, this is a conversation that goes beyond finances, focusing on honoring and facilitating parents’ wishes with dignity and respect. Initiating this dialogue can be challenging, but the peace of mind it brings can profoundly impact family harmony and ensure that legacies are preserved as intended.