Not many of us are looking forward to talking to family about post death wishes. Discussing what type of funeral you want or to whom you plan to leave that flowery lamp that Grandma gave you is not an easy conversation.
Yet every adult should be having this discussion with someone. If that person is an estate attorney, funeral director, or your future executor, that’s a great start. But even if you already have a will, it is also incredibly wise to share your after-death wishes with your loved ones.
Although they might not have a legal say in your estate after you die, an upset family member or loved one who feels like your wishes are not being followed can both disrupt the process of settling your affairs and destroy the very family relationships you want to remain strong. It also is recommended that you memorialize as many of your wishes in the will or attachments to it as possible. In some states, a simple handwritten note will suffice. In others, you’ll want to take a more formal approach. Talk to a local attorney to find out what the laws are in your state.
So what’s the best way to navigate this difficult conversation with your loved ones? Here are some tips.
Three Tips to Talking To Family About Post Death Wishes
1. Have The Conversation Now
Maybe you just got a clean bill of health from your doctors and aren’t planning to take up any dangerous hobbies. While this hopefully means you have a long, healthy road ahead of you, it doesn’t mean you should skip having an honest discussion about your wishes. In fact, when you are well, the discussion will probably be easier to have and will be more organized.
Waiting until you are ill – and potentially exhausted, confused and medicated – can make it harder to express your wishes in a clear and specific way. It also will make it harder for your loved ones to listen or trust what you are saying. They might urge you to rest and insist the conversation is something to have later. Or they might discount – perhaps rightly – that your comments are a result of being sick or overly medicated and not take them seriously.
2. Give Participants Advanced Notice
Mentioning that you’d like to be cremated while you are slicing up the pumpkin pie during Thanksgiving dinner is probably not the best way to discuss your funeral wishes. Yes, it might be one of the few times during the year that your entire clan is together in one room, but bringing up these topics abruptly typically doesn’t work out well. It is wise to let your loved ones know in advance that you’d like to discuss these matters and then find a time that everyone can get together when you won’t be rushed or subject to interruptions.
Have the meeting in a quiet place where people can talk honestly and openly. Write down your wishes as clearly as you can – specifics matter here – and share copies with all who attend. If you have made pre-arrangements with a funeral home, share those details. If you are comfortable with doing so, share a copy of your will or let them review it. Ideally, it’s best to get everyone in the same room for this discussion. But if that is impossible or only occurs rarely, don’t wait. It’s better to have the discussion sooner by phone or Skype than later.
3. Be Open to Other Opinions
While you get the final decision, it can be helpful if you are able to let your loved ones raise any concerns they have or question your wishes. Understandably, this might require some patience on your part.
Perhaps your son gets angry that you don’t want to be buried in the same cemetery with the rest of the family and instead be buried in the town where you grew up. It might be tempting to squash his opposition by saying it’s not his decision where you will be buried. While that is true, letting him vent might be better in the long run.
Acknowledge that having this discussion is stressful for everyone and that stress can fuel any number of emotions – including anger. Letting him and your other loved ones express their feelings ultimately can make them more comfortable with your choices because they will know you considered, or were at least aware, of other options.
Once you’ve had this tough conversation it might be tempting to not revisit it. But it is important to allow for further discussion if questions arise. You also need to consider that over time your wishes might change. Anytime you make changes to your will or funeral wishes it is wise to share them with your loved ones – and your attorney. That way they’ll know the changes weren't made in error and are truly what you want when your life ends.