My finances, my projects, my life
December 7, 2019

How to talk about inheritance with your family

It is never easy to deal with the death of a loved one. And it’s a sad truth that on top of all the paperwork and quick decisions that need to be made, issues surrounding inheritance can sometimes create conflicts and rifts within families when they are already going through a difficult time. By carefully planning your estate and communicating openly with your heirs, it is possible to avoid any unfortunate stumbling blocks. myLIFE opens up about the matter.

Thinking about our own death and estate planning is not something that comes naturally or something that we really want to do. And yet, it is very much in our interest to do so. When someone dies, family and friends are sent on an emotional rollercoaster and it can be difficult for them to make decisions or think about “what happens next”. Planning your estate will give them some breathing space and make the transition a little easier. Beyond the purely practical side, it is also an opportunity to look into options for easing the tax burden for our heirs and, above all, preventing any potential conflicts that may arise.

Take stock of your assets

Before you even think about discussing what you are going to bequeath or pass on to your family, you must have things straight in your own mind. Real estate, financial assets, material wealth: what do you own and how would you like to transfer it?

Seeking the assistance of an expert is highly recommended to allow you to get a clear view of things and make fully informed decisions. A wealth manager or your bank adviser will help you to obtain optimum visibility of your assets, to prepare to bequeath them and above all to ensure that your assets live on.

Now that you have things clear in your mind and you are planning to write your will, it is time to think about your relatives.

There are precise rules governing who can inherit and how much they get.

Who are your heirs?

We won’t belabour the point, as only you will know the answer. The issue is all the more complicated in that you are not free to do whatever you want; there are precise rules governing who can inherit and how much they get.

But providing you comply with the law, the question of to whom you will leave what can be answered by you alone. It is sometimes a difficult task, but one that you cannot avoid if you wish to prevent your heirs from having to decide among themselves who is going to have your stamp collection or the ring that you inherited from your grandmother. Avoid promising one item to one person and something else to another. It is the most sure-fire way of inciting disappointment, jealousy and resentment among your heirs.

Take the time to reflect and, when you are sure of your wishes, you can all talk about it together.

Talk about it together

Nobody is ever thrilled about discussing their own death. Don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s a difficult time for both you and your relatives. In our case, feelings and emotions mix, because financial considerations or questions related to inheritance start to mingle with the psychological aspect.

The conversation should be about your last wishes; they are not up for negotiation.

Each family has its own way of working and conventions, and there’s no magic formula for how to approach such a discussion. There are, however, factors that you should consider to help it go as smoothly as possible.

  • Get the right people together and adapt your language based on who you are talking to. Naturally, how you approach it will differ depending on whether there are small children present or not. As if it isn’t already enough that mourning and death are abstract concepts for them, imagine how confusing it would be to also throw administrative and financial matters into the mix. It is up to you to decide how frank you want to be. Obviously, you need to explain the situation to them because of how important it is, but it is not necessary to go into details that they would not understand.
  • Inheritance doesn’t stop at material possessions. Thinking about our own death often makes us realise that our most valuable possessions are not only material. You should also use this conversation to put into words any spiritual legacy you would like to pass down: your values, priorities, struggles and hopes.
  • The conversation should be about your last wishes; they are not up for negotiation. No matter how difficult you find this conversation, it is essential if you want to make sure that future events run smoothly. One of the reasons to plan and to speak with your heirs is to be able to discuss and explain why you are taking the action you have chosen. Let’s be clear: although a free-flowing conversation should be encouraged, this is not a time for negotiation. Your last wishes must be respected. And if, while discussing them with your heirs, you realise that something needs to be adapted or adjusted, you can still do so and inform them later.

However sensitive it might be, talking about inheritance is often a very healthy exercise. Feathers may still be ruffled and old grudges unearthed, but it is a great opportunity to set things straight and prevent bitterness or suspicion from tearing a family apart. Talking openly is so important.

When discussing material possessions, put yourself in the shoes of your heirs, especially those who could feel left out. Do this without feeling guilty and remember: why did your grandpa decide to give that painting you love so much to your cousin instead of you? If he had told you why he was leaving it to your cousin and not to you while he was alive, it might well have been much easier to understand. You would have known that it was his choice and you would have perhaps understood it better too. He may not even have been aware of how much you loved the painting. You could have found a common ground with your cousin. But to do so, a conversation would have been needed.

Speaking to experts is also useful because they can remain impartial about the situation, which in general means the family will listen to them and understand their perspective.

Seek help

To properly plan your estate, it is important to seek the help of experts. Your banker and a notary will be able to help you to perform all of the preparatory work ahead of talking to your loved ones, as we have just spoken about. Being able to call on one or more professionals who are known by the family can make the matter of estate planning much easier. With you, they will be able to explain the whys and wherefores to your heirs. Speaking to experts is also useful because they can remain impartial about the situation, which in general means the family will listen to them and understand their perspective.

Although it’s a difficult and sensitive topic to broach for both you and your loved ones, plan your estate and speak to them about it. A few of the right words from you will help them to better understand your decisions and prevent any family tension that might arise later. Don’t hesitate to seek the sensible advice of a professional in this area.