If you’re getting together with family this holiday season, it could be a good opportunity to talk about estate planning. But how do you bring up Wills and who’s inheriting what without ruining the fun? Georgia Swan, Tax and Estate Planner, TD Wealth, joins Greg Bonnell to dig into ways you can have these important discussions.
* Georgia Swan, Tax and Estate Planner at TD Wealth, joins us now with some things to consider so you don't make things awkward. All right, Georgia, this is an interesting one. People are getting together. I can understand, perhaps, the inclination-- what would make this a good opportunity to start broaching some of these topics we usually don't talk about when we're having a good time?
* Well, for the most part, for a lot of families, the holidays are the only time when everybody is all together. And these conversations are so much better if they're face to face. But also, the holidays might be a time where you're reminiscing about people that have gone-- that aren't with the family anymore. So those can be good icebreakers. And hopefully some of the good holiday cheer might also help things out a bit.
* OK. Yeah. So maybe everyone's feeling a little bit nicer about each other at this time of year. Let's talk about the benefits of discussing estate planning collectively as a family. To have everyone in the room-- these are pretty big decisions to make.
* They are. And they're not easy conversations. And of course, oftentimes, there are cultural, religious, and all sorts of different reasons why maybe people don't want to approach the topic. But when you have everybody in the room together, everybody that this affects, then everybody gets the message at the same time and everybody hears everyone else's perspective at the same time. Now, that doesn't mean that individual conversations shouldn't follow, because there's always a possibility that somebody might be going along with things when you're all together, but might not feel comfortable airing some grievances or some thoughts in a public setting, basically. So approach everybody individually after as well and ask them, what did you think of that? Do you have any things you want to say to me personally?
* OK. So some good ideas there. How do you actually get into the topic? There's sort of natural holiday conversation. Maybe people haven't seen each other for a while, they're catching up. How do you suddenly jump into wills and end of life planning?
* OK. Well, you don't want to bring the mood down. So you have to really consider your family dynamics. For some families, joint conversations are just not going to happen. So consider that. But a lot of times, a way to broach the topic is to get some common ground. It might be like, do you remember when great uncle Joe passed away, how everything was perfect and the transition of his assets went seamlessly? Or do you remember when aunt Anne passed away and it was a mess? And your cousins aren't even speaking to each other anymore. So those are ways to actually open the conversation and get people talking. And if you're, for example, the child and you're not sure if your parent has put their estate planning in place, you could start it with something like, I hear that this can be an issue. Have you gotten started yet? And if they haven't, maybe it's a matter of being overwhelmed. And maybe you can suggest to them you'll do some research for them and find the right people to get that process started.
* All right, so between passing the gravy and passing the turkey, I've slid the conversation in there. People are receptive. We start to talk about it. Now, you've got to have a plan, right? What are some of the key conversations you want to make sure you have once the discussion has begun?
* Well, basically, I say, in for a penny, in for a pound. Open the floodgates. Start with, what assets do you have? What liabilities do you have? Who are the professional people you work with? Who is your investment advisor, your lawyer, your accountant? And then start with the details of what you have said in your estate planning documents. What does your will, power of attorney for property, power of attorney for personal care, living will-- what do they say and what do those instructions mean to you? And be prepared to answer questions, and be open to comments if what you're saying is something that people aren't entirely agreeing with.
* Now, I act as if I'd be the one to slide it naturally in a conversation. I wouldn't have the guts. I wouldn't be able to do it. It's going to have to be someone else who gets the discussion going. Because these are hard conversations to have, right? But ultimately, down the line, if you don't have them, I imagine things can be a lot harder.
* Absolutely. I've never seen somebody that said, I wish we hadn't had the conversation. It's always, I wish we had it. And usually, it's a life event where you actually see what happens when somebody becomes incompetent or somebody dies. That prompts people to say, oh, gee, I really have to have this conversation now. So it is important to basically open it up. But if your family dynamics does not stand for these entire family conversations, or if it's a situation where, basically, you're actually talking to the family you created rather than the family you were born into-- I call that your framily, your friends who are family-- then maybe that trusted person should have some information about what you're doing so that if there's an emergency, they know who to contact.
* Of course, these are some of the biggest issues that families need to resolve. You're talking about property. You're talking about wealth, estate planning. So when it comes time to speak to an advisor about this kind of stuff, are you speaking to the advisor before you even enter the conversation with your family, afterward? What's the mix here?
* Both. You should definitely be speaking to your lawyer, to your estate planning lawyer before, because you're going to want to get as much information and educate yourself as much as possible. And then also after, because you might be surprised by what some of the family members say, and you may have to change your documents. As well, if you are, when all else fails, having trouble with that conversation, maybe your estate planning lawyer or your financial or investment advisor can actually help you have that family meeting. Finally, if all else fails, what I recommend is leave a letter from the grave-- either a letter or a video where, basically, you explain your reasoning for things. Everybody might not agree, but at least it's something to explain why you estate planned in the way that you did.
* All right, fascinating stuff. I felt like you made even this conversation easier for me, Georgia. I really appreciate it.
* Thanks a lot.