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10 Apr 2015

How to talk to your family about estate planning

“We need to talk about what would happen if I died”.

Cue uncomfortable silence.

No one likes talking about death: it’s morbid and reminds us of our own inevitable passing. We like contemplating the death of family members even less. However, an honest discussion over what should happen when you die is one of the most important conversations you can have as a family unit.

Many people have learnt this the hard way. After suffering the loss of a parent or partner, they encountered further heartache when they discovered there was no Will, or worse, an out of date Will. Both of these scenarios will cause a great deal of stress for your family members.

Having a frank, in-depth discussion with your family about your wishes should anything happen to you is a good way to avoid future arguments and promote financial planning.

Start by making a list of all your assets, and then make a list of all the people you would like to leave them to. Is it fair? Do you think your wishes could cause conflict? Although we see many examples in popular culture of a parent disinheriting a wayward child, disinheritance is quite a complicated affair in real life. Under New Zealand law, close relatives may challenge your Will if they feel that you had a ‘duty’ to provide for them. If you think your wishes may be negatively received by some family members, talk to them about the reasons behind your decision; some parents decide to leave less money to a child who is already financially comfortable. Try to come to a decision which everyone is happy with.

Another benefit of creating a Will is that you can set out funeral plans and also which assets should be used to pay for funeral expenses.

And perhaps the most crucial benefit for parents of young children, is that you can appoint a guardian to look after your children in the event anything should happen to you.

Once you go ahead and sign your Will, it is equally important to notify your close relatives where your Will is stored, so that they can easily locate it after you pass away.

So, what are some ways you can initiate a discussion on this topic with your loved ones? There are plenty of examples in the news or on television of people who have made estate plans (or haven’t as the case may be!). You may also be able to think of a family or friend who has recently taken the step to make a Will. However you bring it up, discussing an estate plan with your family will be one of the best decisions you can make.

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