Estate planning: Talking with family about dividing the pie

It may not be easy to talk about, but your family needs to know how you intend to divide your estate.

Tips and techniques to start the conversation

You don't want arguments after you die about how to divide up the pie, so talk about it with your family now. (Larry Crowe/ Associated Press)

Thanksgiving weekend is a time to reflect, visit family, and of course, eat your fair share of pie. 

And while we may be thankful for the people and the wealth in our lives, not enough of us have planned to protect all that we have.

TD Bank recently talked to Canadians aged 65 and older, and guess what? Forty percent of people surveyed felt unprepared about their estate plan.

Families aren't perfect — many of us can relate more to The Simpsons than the Brady Bunch —and it's easy for emotions to run high during estate planning. Family members can feel slighted or they might not trust siblings or the executor — which is why it's critical to have these conversations early and often. After all, who do you want deciding what's best for your family: You, or a stranger?

It doesn't have to be expensive

Estate planning is a guide for how to distribute the valuables you've worked hard for — car, house, shoe collection — and for conveying your wishes to your loved ones. The process includes making a will, picking a guardian if you have kids, and setting up power of attorney for financial and health care decisions.

There are plenty of inexpensive options, but if you can afford it, a professional can save you from making costly mistakes.

It's not just the rich who need to think about this stuff — and it's not just old folks either.

Do you want your daughter to carry on your family business? Do you want your toddler taken care of if you get into an accident? These are the kinds of questions an estate plan can resolve.

Unexpected events happen in life, and doing some early planning now can avoid a whole lot of heartache down the road.

It's easier to talk about than you think

A conversation about your estate may feel uncomfortable, but it's important and necessary. If you're having trouble talking about it, use events that are happening around you as a way into the discussion. A celebrity death  or a messy estate story that made headlines may be something your family is already talking about. It's not a big leap to go from "Look at what happened to that family" to "What would happen to ours?"

Do's and Don'ts

  • Do try to have a family meeting. This is a good opportunity to get everyone together, ask questions, and make your wishes known. Think carefully about your decisions before you meet loved ones so you can explain your decisions clearly.
  • Don't forget about personal items. Things with sentimental value, like a wedding ring, are often most important to those you leave behind. 
  • Do update your estate plan. Your life, and assets, can change dramatically in just a few years and so can your wishes. Take life events like buying a property or the birth of a grandchild as an opportunity to review your plan.
  • Don't keep it a secret. The best way to avoid disputes among the people you leave behind is to clearly lay out your plan and explain why you made the decisions you did.

About the Author

Nisha Patel

Nisha has covered business and economics for CBC for several years. She's passionate about personal finance and loves a good deal, especially when it satisfies her wanderlust for an exotic vacation. Born and raised in Calgary, Nisha is trying hard to make line-dancing trendy in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @nishapatel.


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