Hard Conversations Are Worth Having

difficult conversation

Wise will planning is much more than just dividing assets after you die or thinking about charitable bequests. The type of assets you have, your values, the needs of your loved ones and the type of relationship you have with them must all be considered in your planning. That is part of what makes conversations about wills and bequests hard to initiate – to do it well is to shine a light into some of the hidden corners of our lives. However, after many years spent guiding people through these conversations, I have learned that it is always better to talk about it, no matter how painful or awkward it might be, than to not talk about it at all.

Several years ago, I met Mavis and Jim. They wanted some help to create a Generosity Plan, which included thinking through their wills, and as is so often the case, they had been putting off the conversation. As our meeting progressed, the mood in the room shifted once we began to talk about distribution of their assets at the time of their death. Few people like to think of their own mortality, but this was different. Jim and Mavis had three adult children, and while they loved them all a great deal, they had become estranged from one of their kids.

I listened as they shared the long and sad story of their broken family. Their oldest son suffered from a substance abuse problem that had created a litany of problems for himself, not least of which was money management. He refused any help or treatment, so the prospects of the situation improving looked bleak. Conversations with him often led to raised tempers and tears for everyone. Try as they might, Mavis and Jim had been unable to face the conversation about what to do with their estate because they knew it meant confronting the painful truth of their broken family. However, their silence on the topic was now straining their relationship with their other children. The fear of more estranged relationships was the breaking point. They were ready to talk and make some plans.

I have learned that it is always better to talk about it … than to not talk about it at all.

As we worked through their pain and their reality, Mavis and Jim decided they would divide their estate into four equal portions. One for charity, one each for their two children, and the final portion – because they feared it would otherwise be squandered – would be held in trust for the benefit of their estranged son’s kids. Their estranged son would get nothing when they died.

This was a tough decision for Mavis and Jim. It felt like the final rejection of their son, yet they knew it was the best decision they could make given all that needed to be considered. It was a classic case of making the most of a difficult situation.

Once their plans were made, Mavis and Jim were ready to share their decisions with their children. They extended an invitation to their estranged son to join them, but he opted to have no part in it.  It wasn’t easy, but they sat down with the other two kids and explained their plans, including their wishes to support family as well as the charitable causes for which they cared deeply. It was a bittersweet conversation given their son was not there, but well worth having.

Mavis and Jim were able to get past their fears and hurts to make important plans. Of course, it was tough, but knowing they had a plan in place eased their tension and some of the strain that was growing in their family.

When I hear that more than half of Canadian adults do not have a will I think of Mavis and Jim and the hard work they did to get their affairs in order. Certainly, it was hard to make the most of a painful family situation, but if they could do it, what’s holding the rest of us back?  Start the conversation today.

*Mavis and Jim are pseudonyms used to protect the privacy of the individuals.

Contributed by Darren Pries-Klassen

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