Talking about what will happen to our money and possessions when we’ve gone isn’t something most of us enjoy. The sensitive subject of what you’re leaving in your will can make your loved ones feel upset and uncomfortable, not to mention the fact that it can be hard for you too, as it will undoubtedly remind you of your own mortality.

But having an open and frank discussion about your wishes with your family is a must. Not only can it stop arguments and resentment about the division of your estate when you’ve gone, it may also prevent a lot of stress for those close to you.

If your family members don’t know where your will is, what your wishes are for your funeral, or whether or not you’ve made provisions for paying for your funeral, it can add unnecessary pressure at a time when they’re already dealing with the emotions of losing someone they love.

The key is to broach the subject with tact and to have thought things through beforehand. This is, after all, your chance to help your loved ones understand and come to terms with what you’ve decided to do with your estate.

Be prepared   

Before you sit down with your family, try to have a good idea about what you want to achieve with the money and possessions you’ll leave behind. Is your priority to make sure your partner is provided for? Do you have a child, relative or friend who needs special consideration, for example, someone with an illness or disability? Would you like to leave something to a charity or cause that means a lot to you?

Once you’ve decided what your priorities are, you could try making a list of all your assets and work out how they may be divided and who to leave them to. Also try to work out whether any of your decisions may be seen as unfair by some of your nearest and dearest, and prepare your reasons for your actions. Making notes about your decisions that you can refer to during the discussion may help too.

Time and place

Discussing your will may not be the best subject to broach at a happy family gathering such as a birthday or anniversary. But these occasions may be the only time everyone you want to have the conversation with is together in one place. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to let everyone concerned know that you want to have the discussion beforehand, rather than springing it on them at the last minute.

Alternatively you may want to organise a separate time to get your family together. Again, consider letting them know well in advance why you want to talk to them to avoid any anxiety at the time.

Family heirlooms

The distribution of personal items such as jewellery, artworks and other items of sentimental value can cause quarrels when someone dies. Having a discussion about these items now can give your loved ones a chance to talk about the things they’re particularly attached to, which may help you come to an agreement on how they should be divided up.

Funeral planning   

If you have definite ideas of what sort of funeral you’d like – including whether you want to be buried or cremated, what flowers (if any) you’d like and the choice of music to be played – it’s essential to let your family know.

Deciding which of your assets should be used to pay for your funeral can also make things less stressful for those you leave behind. If, on the other hand, you’ve already paid for your funeral in advance and made your own funeral plan, it’s essential to inform your family about the details.

Whether the discussion makes you have a rethink about some of the parts of your will or simply reinforces your initial wishes, the next step is to write or update your will accordingly. Once you’ve finalised your will, make sure your close relatives know where it is so they can find it easily when necessary.

For more details on how to get your will written, read our article Have you made a will?

How CABA can help

CABA supports the wellbeing of past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff members, and their spouses, partners and children up to the age of 25. For advice, information and support please: