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Why you need to have these tough conversations this Christmas

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Christmas is the season of goodwill and making that extra effort to bring the families together. It's also a good time, while everyone is in the same room, to have those difficult discussions about estate planning or aged care.

You don't need to bring it up as the turkey is being served, but starting the awkward conversations can help prevent heartache down the track.

Story Wealth Management financial adviser Anne Graham says the consequences of not having these discussions when you are able is that when it's time for a loved one to go into aged care, the move is usually sudden and emotions are heightened.

estate planning aged care conversations christmas

"Even if there's been a cursory discussion about home care or more help, there's a bit more preparedness," she says.

If you have young children, it can also be a time to talk about who will be their guardian should anything happen to you, Graham says.

"I've had couple clients who, when I've brought up the subject of guardianship immediately say, 'no, they're not going to your brother, or it's not going to be your sister'," she says.

January is a notoriously busy period for aged care facility admissions and queries, says Aged Care Steps director Louise Biti.

There are three main reasons for this:

  • The heat of summer often causes elderly people to deteriorate, which can lead to short-term or permanent admission to aged care.
  • Christmas is a time when family members get together for longer visits. While Mum or Dad may be able to hide their frailties during short visits, any deterioration is more obvious during longer stays. It's also a time when other family members can compare notes on what they've noticed.
  • Often the decision for Mum or Dad to enter an aged care facility has already been made, but the family wants just one more Christmas together at home.

There's another reason that Christmas is a good time for the family to talk about estate planning, says Coleman Greig principal and lawyer Peter Bobbin.

"One of the things I always advocate as the three most effective tools in estate planning is a blank sheet of paper, a glass of wine and some time," says Bobbin.

"At Christmas there is the confluence of wine and a little bit of time when we can sit chatting and, contextually, it's a time of goodwill where people reflect on the year gone and may be more accommodating

"It's one of the few times to raise discussions that can otherwise be quite difficult.  You do think more about family at Christmas so the opportunity of raising these discussions at this time is valuable."

Bobbin says it is best to approach it by phrasing it around care for the other person.

"I wouldn't say to Mum and Dad 'here's your plum pudding and brandy, whom are you giving Power of Attorney to?'  I would say, 'Mum and Dad, here's your pudding and brandy, I'd like to let you know what I've got in place for my family' and hopefully that opens the discussion," he says.

"If you need to be more direct I would say something like, 'I don't want to pry but I want to make sure your decisions are carried out if anything happens to you where you can no longer make these decisions yourself'."

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Julia Newbould is a financial writer and commentator with a background in journalism. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.
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