These days, many of us fall into one of two extremes: we are either spending far more time at home than we usually do, or we are working long hours and in stressful conditions to keep the country's essential functions operational. Whether you fall on one side or the other of this spectrum, you may notice that some important and (admittedly) rather uncomfortable conversations are coming to light. If you have small children at home, these conversations start with questions like, “What is the Coronavirus?” or “Why can't I get that new toy?” or “Why does Mommy have to go to work when everyone is supposed to stay home?” If your children are older, or if it's all adults in the home, the conversations might be a little more nuanced, “What is the plan if one of us gets sick?” or “How are we going to pay our bills if one of us gets laid off?” or “Since I have a compromised immune system, how should we adapt our routines to keep me safe?”
Bringing Taboos into the Light
In general, we all adhere to a certain set of social rules: don't talk about money or medical conditions unless absolutely necessary. These can be touchy subjects, especially when the conversations come up with family. However, they are incredibly important — now more than ever. In households across America, this public health crisis is raising these typically taboo topics and thrusting this conversation into the light. But, do we all know how to do it?
As an estate planning attorney, I have these kinds of conversations all the time. Talking money and health are practically routine in my business. However, one of the most challenging (and rewarding) parts of my job is helping families communicate with one another around these subjects. Since I know a lot of you might be diving in unaccompanied and unprepared, I thought I would throw together my top tips for difficult conversations among family:
Tricky Conversations, Tip #1: Above All, Be Honest
This may seem obvious, but it's the number one tip for a reason. Especially when talking with children about tricky subjects, it's important to walk a fine line. Of course, you want to translate complex ideas into messages that are age-appropriate. However, sometimes conversations about health, illness, and financial stability are just complicated. Above all, remember to be honest. Your little ones, and the adults in your home, will appreciate the clarity.
Tricky Conversations, Tip #2: Trust that Your Loved Ones Can Hear What You Need to Say
When it comes to talking about health, illness, and financial stability, many of us have a tendency to sugar-coat situations for the benefit of our loved ones. We don't want to hurt, scare, or worry them, so we try to protect them. However, this kind of “protection” often turns out to be a disservice. While we are trying to stay positive, not being clear and open with our loved ones can leave them in the dark if and when the worst occurs.
This doesn't mean that you have to be dark and gloomy all the time. Instead, set aside specific time with your loved ones to share your answers to a few tricky questions:
- What do you want to happen if you become sick? Who should help you make medical decisions? Who should have access to your financial affairs? Who will step in to care for your children, your home, and your business?
- What do you want to happen if you die? Again, who will care for your children, your home, and your business? What will happen with your debts, your assets, and your legacy?
As soon as you know the answers to these questions, it's time to share your preferences with others. Even if you don't have all the details worked out in a fully-executed estate plan, make sure that your loved ones know what you want and why. This knowledge can bring needed clarity and calm to moments of crisis and chaos.
Tricky Conversations, Tip #3: Avoid Specific Hypotheticals and Keep it General
One pitfall that I sometimes see families fall into when having tricky conversations is getting bogged down in the details of a hypothetical. Of course, it's important to know what you want to do in any one of a number of circumstances. What if you get sick and incapacitated? What if your partner is the one who is sick? What if both of you lose your jobs? What if one person passes and the other remarries? You get the idea. Talk through the various general scenarios, but avoid the rabbit hole of particulars. Very productive conversations can get derailed this way. Focus on the task at hand: finding clarity and communication.
Tricky Conversations, Tip #4: Make Sure EVERYONE is on the Same Page
Having these tricky conversations with the people sheltered together in your home is hard enough, but it isn't the full story. If your plan includes others, such as guardians for your children, or business partners, or trusted family members, it is important to include them in this conversation. Write them a letter or an email. Get them on the phone or video chat. Make sure that they know the part you want them to play in your plan. Talk it out. Allow them a chance to ask questions, get clarity, and agree. Not only will this put your mind at ease, but it will ensure that all relevant parties are on board should the time come.
Tricky Conversations, Tip #5: Ask Questions, Avoid Proclamations, and Focus on You
In tricky conversations, it can be easy to get in your head and assume everyone agrees with your perspective. In fact, this is another common scenario I see when I help families through these discussions. One family member will say, “Oh, we all agree on that point. We don't need to discuss it.” Inevitably, that does not turn out to be the case. So, drop the assumptions and avoid proclamations. Instead, enter these conversations with an air of curiosity. Ask questions, listen closely to what your loved ones are telling you, and only speak for yourself. If you are able to cultivate a sense of openness, acceptance, and curiosity in these conversations, you might actually find them to be a healthy and calming process for all involved.
Still Not Sure?
I get it. It can be hard to know where to start, and it can feel like stirring up unnecessary conflict to bring up these subjects while staying in such close quarters with loved ones. However, we know that these conversations are important. Once you start having these conversations, it is even more important to know what to do next. There is light at the end of this tunnel. You can have these hard conversations with loved ones, come to agreements, and then lay these plans out in a way that is solid and enforceable. Then, guess what? You get to relax! You can relax knowing that everyone is on the same page, everyone knows the plan, and the plan is ready and waiting, should it ever be needed.
If you are ready to start these conversations or layout your plan, get in touch with us at The Tyra Law Firm. We are here during this pandemic to help you and your family stay safe and protected, no matter what lies ahead. Give our office a call, and we can get started.
Did you know that the ENTIRE estate planning process can be completed virtually? No need to leave your home! We can do this online!