Can We Talk? Having the Needed Conversations with Potential Guardians

Estate planning is more than making choices. It is also about having conversations with those people you select to act for you in case of your death or disability—personal representatives, powers of attorney, and guardians, to name a few. A lot of people put off these conversations because they might be awkward, but talking about it now is ideal.

Recently, I watched the Oscar-nominated film, Manchester by the Sea. The film is a rough, real-life drama that presents life as raw as it genuinely can be sometimes. The plot (and don’t worry, no spoilers are here; this part can be learned in the trailers) centers on Lee Chandler, a man who lives a quiet and solo life near Boston. After receiving a call about his brother’s health crisis, Lee arrives in his coastal hometown too late; his brother has died. In the midst of working through that, Lee learns that he was named guardian of his nephew, Patrick. Lee is shocked and reluctant, and the rest of the movie addresses how these two work out their grief, their new roles, and their uncertain futures.

As I watched the film, of course, I cringed inside at how things played out setting up this scenario: Lee’s shock hearing he was being asked to be Patrick’s guardian. Of course, choosing the guardian for your children in case of your death involves many considerations. One of those considerations needs, though, to be whether the selected person will want the role. Honest conversations about that can help. You might also talk about logistics, finances, and hopes for your children’s futures.

When clients have questions about these roles—questions for themselves and those people they’ve in mind to assume these roles—often we resolve those unknown pieces by talking it out together. I also encourage clients to speak with those persons they have in mind to assume guardianship of minor children to make sure this really is in the best interest of the kids. Another option is to hold a joint meeting in my office—the clients, their selected persons, and I can sit down together and talk about their potential roles.

Sure, the first part is making the choices. But be sure too to have the conversations with your selected people. Death is hard enough to navigate for those we leave behind. A gift we can leave in that wake is limiting unwelcome surprises.