Thanksgiving is about more than stuffing yourself with turkey and watching football. It’s time for the family to get together and talk about … well, things that make many of us uncomfortable.

Politics and weird third cousin Lilibeth aside, Thanksgiving is a perfect time for talking about what happens when the seats begin to go vacant. It’s a time to think about the future and how planning for the aging and passing of loved ones – and the passing of the torch to the next generation – is necessary for maintaining family harmony. Make this Thanksgiving a Thinksgiving, so everyone leaves the table not just full of delicious food, but also full of useful knowledge. 

We know it’s not easy. In fact, 44 percent of people are uncomfortable talking about end-of-life plans. Here are some pointers for starting the conversation this holiday season and planning for whatever the future holds.

1. Starting the Unusual Dinner Conversation

If your kids (or your attorney nephew) bring up your end-of-life plans, don’t be offended. They don’t want you to die, they’re just looking out for you. Flip the situation around. Your aging mother is still independent, but life being what it is, it won’t last forever.

If you and your elderly parents or adult kids don’t discuss what will happen to your stuff and who will be in charge if you can’t make your own decisions, your family could find itself at the mercy of the courts, or worse, fighting with each other over money, property and life-or-death judgement calls. Here’s how to get things started:

  • Choose the right time.  It’s probably best to wait until after dinner is served, so everyone can be fully invested in the conversation. If your family is known to dine and dash, it’s best to broach the topic during the first course. You want everyone there so it feels less like an interrogation and more like a healthy family discussion, which is exactly what it is.
  • Come prepared.  Bring any documents you may have related to end-of-life care and planning, and even give everyone a heads-up in a text or email before the big meal that you’d like to discuss this. Surprises are for birthday parties, not important conversations.

2. Making your wishes known

If you or a loved one become incapacitated because of an illness or accident, having an advanced directive in place makes all the difference. To make sure your wishes are met, you’ll need to choose someone to be your healthcare power of attorney. It is through them that all decisions will be made. The person you choose should be someone you trust and available to act on your behalf, should the need arise.

3. Getting Cared For at the End

Chances are that you and your loved ones all want to retain as much independence and dignity as possible for as long as possible. That’s why it’s important to discuss when it might be time to consider assisted living care or moving into a nursing home or retirement community. Even if you don’t see yourself needing this kind of care, you should still plan for it financially. Life has a tendency to throw curve balls, and the average monthly cost of nursing home care can amount to more than $8,000.

If you have the option to live at home, you’ll have to prepare your caregiver, especially if that caregiver is a loved one like a spouse or adult child. While caring for an infirm or dying loved one is one of the most loving acts of kindness, it comes with its own set of health risks. Our Family Caregiver’s Guide can be helpful as you consider your options.

4. Putting a Plan in Place

Part of what makes these discussions so uncomfortable is that we can’t predict how things will play out. A properly implemented estate plan is the best way to control life’s uncertainties. Your customized estate plan lets you control what happens to your assets after you die, can help keep the family out of probate court, and determines who takes care of you if you become disabled. It can also provide care directives for a disabled adult child, if needed. Talking with your family about your end-of-life expectations is for the benefit of everyone at the table, and a plan is better put in place sooner than later.

We can’t help you at the dinner table, but we can help you after Thinksgiving. Contact our offices anytime to build a plan that fits you just as well as your pants did before the big feast.