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Tips for estate planning and talking about inheritance

"So, Why Aren't We Talking"?  Tips for jumpstarting estate planning conversations

Are you avoiding critical conversations about estate planning?  If so, you are not alone.  Evidence suggests that most adults have not planned ahead in regard to either their financial assets or personal property.  A majority of individuals die without a legal will. Even fewer have addressed what should happen to their personal property.  A lack of planning and communication too often result in not knowing if you are carrying out a property owner’s wishes, inaccurate assumptions, and regrets of “if only we had talked.”  So, why don't family members talk about issues, which would make things easier?

Many reasons may exist as to why conversations about the passing on of non-titled property may be avoided.  Topics related to death and dying may be viewed as inappropriate or disrespectful.  Planning for what happens to possessions is to acknowledge the realities of loss of independence and death.  Talking about “who should get what” can be sensitive when there are estranged family members, siblings who never get along, or a parent and adult child who find little in common.  The potential for conflict is high when there has been a history of challenging family relationships.

Concerns or fears about how one’s motives in raising the topic might be interpreted (my parents will just think I’m greedy or want control).  Family members often blame the other “generation” for not being willing to engage in conversations such as parents versus adult children.  Think about how you may have responded to another person when they tried to initiate discussions about passing on possessions.

Ten tips for talking about inheritance

  1. Be clear about your own motives for raising the issue. What are your concerns, what do you want to have happen, and why?
  2. Beware of making assumptions or jumping to conclusions about someone else’s motives, whether they are givers or receivers.
  3. Respect the fact that others may not be ready or able to face their own or another's death.
  4. Remember that listening is the part of communication we too often forget.
  5. Ask "what if" questions. For example, "Dad, what would you want to have happen with the things in the house if you and Mom were no longer able to live here?"
  6. Look for natural opportunities to talk. When a friend or relative is dealing with transferring personal possessions when someone moves or dies, use the time to start talking. Ask, "What would you have done if you were in that situation?"
  7. Recognize that family members will have different feelings and opinions. Conversations should focus on discovering where those involved agree and disagree.
  8. When another family member raises the issue, be willing to listen and talk. Adult children are just as likely to refuse to talk as parents or in-laws.
  9. Not speaking up means that others will not know your opinions or feelings.
  10.  Use Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?™ resources to jumpstart your conversations (i.e. workbook, video and others available at yellowpieplate.umn.edu).


Revised 2019. Marlene Stum, Extension specialist and Becky Hagen Jokela, Extension educator, University of Minnesota Extension.

Reviewed in 2019

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